As Canada’s answer to David Lynch, Guy Maddin is one of cinema’s last standing avant-garde filmmakers, carrying the baton from his cherished contemporary Luis Buñuel. But Maddin’s tenth feature film could be his most accessible film to date: it actually has a cohesive plot.
Keyhole is a loose adaptation of various greek tragedies told with a film noir edge. Forgotten nineties film star Jason Patric stars as Ulysses, a gun wielding mobster who returns home after rescuing young girl Denny (Brooke Pallson) from drowning. Filling the ground floor of his manse are his languid cronies who drink, sleep and lust the night away whilst on lookout for the snooping cops. Out of the parlor and into the hallway roams the rest of the houses’ reluctant inhabitants, including balletic girls, a straight-faced Udo Keir as mysterious Dr. Lemke, and the ghost of an old man wearing his wrinkly birthday suit performing fellatio on a dusty, wall mounted wooden penis (well, it looked wooden).
Forcing his way past/through the ghosts that taunt him, Ulysses, along with Denny and his bound-and-gagged son Manners, trail around the house prying open all the locked doors. What lies within? As the flawed protagonist, Ulysses is on a personal conquest to confront his shrouded past so that he can move forward and finally be reunited with his neglected wife Hyacinth (played by familiar Maddin muse Isabella Rossellini).
As if the afore mentioned story outline wasn’t telling enough, suffice to say that it’s an absolute nut-bar of a film. Following his majorly personal essay film My Winnipeg from 2007, Keyhole is a similar labour of love, with Maddin adapting the well-worn Greek tales and creating something completely unique.
But unique doesn’t always equate to good. Keyhole is a jarring mix of Homerically grandiose allusions, personal elegy, Beckett absurdity, Dali surrealism and just a hint of Lynch’s ‘Crazy Clown Time’ nightmare. All are great things in isolation, but Maddin’s bizarro world is so overcooked, throwing a bunch of brilliant ideas onto the screen and hoping that some of them will stick. Just about enough of them do to keep your interest, but the result is ultimately patchy, with some of the lovingly crafted lunacy just a little too forced, and the overt mob mentality played for unintentially laughs rather than menace.
An homage-fuelled phantasmagoric odyssey, Keyhole forces us to peek into the dark, hidden depths of the cult director’s cerebrum. Maybe it’s a door best left locked.