Fans of dark, moody horror films have been having a good last few years. Films like A Dark Song, Satan’s Slaves, and Terrified are all unique takes on the ghost subgenre and have managed to get under the skins of many unsuspecting viewers. Taking a page from those books is The Sonata, a hidden gem with just a few minor scratches.
This latest film from director Alex Desmond follows Rose (Freya Tingley), a promising young violinist on the verge of breakthrough success, and Charles (Simon Abkarian), her middling agent. When the two learn of Rose’s estranged father’s death, they also find that her successful composer father, Richard Marlow (Rutger Hauer), has left all his possessions to her. Among them are an enormous mansion (a castle, really), and, a sonata- Marlow’s last work.
Marlow’s sonata is coded with strange symbols, and once Rose and Charles can decipher the song, Charles is convinced that new doors will open to them and the two will make a fortune. Rose, however, is uncertain that they want to know the intent of the sonata and its strange symbols, fearing that the song is the cause of strange happenings taking place while she stays at her newly inherited home.
This is a truly immersive film which takes on the look and feel of classic ghost tales. Think The Innocents, or for a more modern example, The Others, complete with a similar, light fog blanketing the scenery. Sweeping images of the house and its landscape combine with the dreary fog to invite viewers to lean in close for a spooky good time. The house itself is delightfully creepy, juxtaposing ornate and gaudy decor with dull greys of a house devoid of any light or happiness. There’s something menacing about the place, and viewers who like a sort of deliberate pacing will enjoy getting to the bottom of the mysteries within its walls.
This isn’t a haunted house story, though. This film is ultimately about obsession, with a hint of dark magic. Don’t worry, that wasn’t a spoiler- it will become apparent very quickly upon viewing. The Sonata doesn’t work with subtlety, after all. Instead, the film lays all its cards on the table, and the mystery is really found in how everything will play out. All this is to say that, while the film is visually striking and brooding, the story itself is fun but ultimately predictable. Some may even feel it’s anticlimactic once the credits start to roll.
On another note, as one might imagine, the score for a film called The Sonata plays a key role. Composer Alexis Maingaud really delivers with his haunting work, which plays over almost every scene of the film. Maingaud’s score is just as beautiful and enveloping as the film’s imagery. The sound of it adds richness to contrast the drab colors of the neglected, old structure and its dreary landscape.
Although there is a lot to love about the cinematography, the imagery does encounter a few hiccups. There are a few head-scratching moments, such as one involving a poorly CGI’d ghost and, later, some practical ghosts with less-than-perfect makeup. Both of these factors could certainly be due to budget limitations, and so it’s helpful that where The Sonata falters with effects, it makes up in enthusiasm. This movie is really aiming to impress and, most importantly, to scare. Whether it’s successfully scary is subjective, but an earnest movie that nails more horror elements than it misses is always something to appreciate.
There’s a lot to appreciate about The Sonata, and if you’re in the mood to watch something pretty but dark, this is a safe bet- just don’t expect it to completely blow your mind. This is a solid film, but overall doesn’t add much to the genre in the way of originality. Regardless, The Sonata is certainly worth your time.