Xpiation (2017) – a feature film review by Andrew Buckner
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Xpiation (2017), from writer Andrea Cavaletto and director Domiziano Cristopharo, is a success, not just because of its many moments of well done and incredibly convincing extreme brutality, but because of its minimalism. Running an immensely efficient 73 minutes and involving three deliberately enigmatic characters who spend the picture in the hallway of an abandoned building, the work doesn’t have an unnecessary ingredient in its entirety. Even the development of said leads is treated in this manner. There is just enough exposition displayed to spectators to give a purpose as to the measures which shape the narrative. Even though some of the key figures’ motivations are routine, they fit nicely into the meaning of atonement stemming from the title word.
The quick yet disciplined pacing, along with a wonderfully effective commencing eight minutes which are dialogue-free, also compliment the above factor by placing viewers immediately into the ruthless action of the purposefully barebones plot (a la James Wan’s masterful 2004 outing, Saw). This is after a brisk minute-long opening credits sequence that is filled with the luminous panache of its gorgeous yet forebodingly grimy exterior shots. The same said score that is reverberating over the soundtrack during this passage enhances the skillfully macabre mood which is present throughout the duration of the venture. Furthermore, the final acknowledgments segment is equally stylish. It incorporates white cursive letters over a colorful, graffiti-laden brick wall.
The concluding entry in the consistently strong and shockingly graphic “The Trilogy of Death”, which started with Poison Rouge’s American Guinea Pig: Sacrifice (2017) and was followed-up with Adam Ford’s Torment (2017), the effort concerns a man, billed as “Latino Guy” (Emanuele Delia), who wakes up naked and tied to a chair. A sharply dressed woman, known simply as “Her” (Chiara Pavoni), is recording him. This is while a second man, “Torturer” (Simone Tolu), merrily inflicts pain upon him. The violence towards the bound individual gets more severe as the undertaking moves forward. This is as a string of quick flashbacks flesh-out the backstory of “Her”. Such an approach is simultaneously gripping, powerful, and harrowing.
Ending with a surreal climax that is a marvelous touch to the grounded outrageousness of the material, Cristopharo’s movie also focuses on themes of drug addiction and domestic abuse in a frank fashion. This is both welcome and much in line with the sheer believability and overall atmosphere of the attempt. What also helps matters is that every one of the central roles are embodied by bullseye portrayals. They wisely amend unique qualities to each person. This is most notable in the quirky, almost goofy, ticks Tolu places upon the chemically dependent “Torturer”.
Pavoni fares greatest among these previously stated depictions. She effortlessly morphs “Her” into a quietly menacing villain. More specifically, one who frequently reminded me of Dyanne Thorne’s iconic go as the ferocious name-referenced personality in the cult masterpiece Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975). Pavoni is just as triumphant when exposed as a victim who is worthy of observer sympathy. Considering that this balancing act is delivered in a performance that chiefly constitutes sinister self-assured postures, wicked facial gestures, and few uttered phrases heightens the brilliance of her interpretation.
From a technical perspective, the editing is smooth. Continually, the costumes are impressive. The screenplay cleverly ignores a great number of the customary structural and elemental bits films of this ilk often utilize. Such makes the generally formulaic incidents that occur on-screen easily forgivable. The sparse dialogue heard herein is authentic, but standard on occasion.
The behind the lens guidance of the project from Cristopharo is firm throughout the endeavor. He has an admirable method of adding visual elegance to the proceedings. It never feels overdone or superfluous. Best of all, it doesn’t disrupt the immersive taletelling that he puts so cunningly to the forefront. His cinematography is just as striking. It provides a perfect veneer for the production. What is also worth mentioning is the solid secondary cast who are mostly seen in episodes of recollection. They leave a memorable impact in minimal time. Moreover, the sound, camera handling, and lighting are also deft.
Recorded in Rome, Italy, Xpiation is a tough, satisfying exercise in horror. It never loses its grasp on its organic, hauntingly credible nature. In so doing, it is endlessly tense and uncomfortable. This is without becoming grotesque to the point of being purely exploitive. Though the content of the piece doesn’t offer anything that audiences couldn’t have gleaned from prior torture-oriented genre submissions, the sheer craftsmanship at hand renders such matters relatively trivial. There are also just enough setting changes, such as when “Her” briefly departs the premises before the wildly unflinching third act, that the claustrophobic single location use herein doesn’t become monotonous. All of this creates a feature that is smart in execution and bold in its simplicity. For daring cinema patrons, it is worth seeking out.
Xpiation receives ***1/2 out of ***** on The Buckner Scale.
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