Andrew Desmond’s feature debut The Sonata, co-written with Arthur Morin, opens with composer Richard Marlow (the late Rutger Hauer) putting the finishing touches on a musical score. He then walks downstairs, heads outside into the dark night with a petrol canister and candle in hand, douses his body in the fuel and sets fire to himself. It is all shown from Marlow’s own point of view (including a quick glance at his face reflected in a mirror), as though we were watching the prologue of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) retuned to the key of self-immolation. We have been witnessing – indeed, experiencing, through subjective cinematography – a ritualised act of suicide that represents the culmination of a reclusive composer’s work and life.
Marlow’s daughter Rose Fisher (Freya Tingley) was only 14 months old when he abandoned her. A celebrated violinist prodigy in her own right, Rose has evidently inherited her estranged father’s musical talent, and now finds herself heiress to his property too: not only his old isolated chateau in France, but also the copyright to all his musical works including the manuscript of his final composition. This last, the unpublished Violin Sonata Op. 54, is notated with strange symbols in blood-red ink, and seem uneven and incomplete = or at least encrypted. Helped by her agent Charles Vernais (Simon Abkarian) in deciphering the score, and finding clues for the symbols scattered about her father’s estate, Rose gradually comes to believe that the piece is not only designed to be a demonic invocation, but also written with her very much in mind as its performer.
Playing upon the idea of diabolus in musica – dissonant tri-tones that were once believed to have a Satanic sonority – The Sonata lets the devil have all the best tunes as it combines castle gothic, secret societies, child sacrifice and ghostly apparitions to conjure the spirit of a resident evil. Like Eitan Arrusi’s Reverb (2007), Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem (2012), this is a film where sound itself is used as the medium for the sinister influences of genre, while leaving us to wonder to what subliminal ensorcellment we, the audience, might be exposing ourselves as we eavesdrop on the wicked waves of the film’s soundtrack. Shot with classical composition, The Sonata remixes low horror with the higher arts, and suggests that we are all merely vessels for the subliminal (if sublime) effects of the entertainments we consume.
The Sonata was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.