Film review: The Double Hour

August 2, 2011

originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

“Nothing is as it seems.”

So reads the marketing tagline for the pleasantly twisty Italian thriller “The Double Hour.”

Love is murder.

And that’s perfectly true for the first four-fifths of the film, which executes a series of clever narrative switchbacks that keep the viewer on high alert. But then something strange happens and everything appears to be exactly what it seems, after all. Or is it?

It’s all part of the fun, I suppose. The set-up: Retired cop Guido (Filippo Timi) meets Slovenian chambermaid Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) on the speed-dating scene in Turin, Italy.

As the vulnerable widower and the shy immigrant tentatively move toward love, Guido invites Sonia to pass the time with his at his day job – security guard at a largely unoccupied woodland estate.

Here’s where it gets tricky. If you want to see “The Double Hour” and enjoy all its surprises, don’t read any further. A few spoilers follow, but the film has so many twists that revealing a few won’t hurt.

During a romantic interlude in the forest outside the mansion, things go sideways and Sonia awakes in a hospital room with a nasty entrance wound on her forehead. Her sense of reality seems to be falling apart, and soon she is dodging a tenacious Turin detective, a mysterious priest, and what may or may not be a vengeful ghost.

Sonia also finds herself glancing at digital clocks at the “double hour” moment, when the hour and minute readings match up – 11:11, for instance. This seems to have a terrible significance for Sonia, who commences to freaking directly out.

At this point, director Guiseppe Capotondi starts crossfading the story through various genres like a gleefully sadistic DJ. Is this a supernatural noir? A horror movie? A psychological thriller? The answer is yes.

As the beautiful and haunted Sonia, Russian actress Rappoport is in virtually every scene, and carries the film with a dextrous performance that will keep you guessing until the end.

Speaking of which, the end is where “Double Hour” runs into trouble. By the time Sonia wakes up in the hospital for the second time (don’t ask), we’ve come to appreciate director Capotondi’s skillful rug-pulling. Thanks to tight pacing, editing and overall storytelling, we’re pleasantly disoriented by the parallel realities, the comas, the suicides, that creepy priest….

The story seems expertly constructed for one final twist; one last reveal. But it never arrives. The end credits roll over a lingering feeling of deflation.

Which is not the place you want to leave your audience at the end of your movie. A good mystery thriller always stays just a few steps ahead of its audience. “The Double Hour” keeps a teasing lead for 90 thrilling minutes, then hits the wall right before the finish line.

Unless, of course, that last photograph isn’t what it seems.

Grade: B

Director: Guiseppe Capotondi

Cast: Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Nichele Di Mauro

Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Unrated (in the “R” range for violence, sexuality, nudity and language)

Website: http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/

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