The Sonata (2018)

The Sonata was directed and co-written by Paris-based Londoner Andrew Desmond. We watched it on Amazon Prime.

You might have noticed that I spend a lot of time navel-gazing about the name of my blog, and wondering if a film does (or doesn’t) fall within the purview I’ve arbitrarily given myself.

In production terms, The Sonata isn’t very British. The companies in the copyright notice are French, Latvian, Russian and British. Still, I feel compelled to blog about it, because a) it was directed and co-written by a British expat; b) the main character is British; c) the movie has several scenes in London; and d) I loved it.

Rose (Freya Tingley) is a professional violinist. Unknown to the masses, she’s also the estranged daughter of British composer Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), who withdrew from the limelight to dabble in the occult.

After Marlowe’s suicide, Rose inherits his French chateau, where she finds a manuscript with strange symbols. With the aid of her manager, she begins to decipher them, so she can perform the sonata as her father intended.

Basically, Desmond’s début is a great example of a particular sort of film. If you like that sort of film, you’re going to love The Sonata. The failings it has are those of a whole genre, rather than this particular film. And, as a fan of the genre, I didn’t mind them.

I’ll start with the negatives to get them out of the way. The deciphering of the manuscript is a bit too convenient. There are times when the film goes a bit “Da Vinci Code”, but it’s no worse than The Conjuring 2 in that regard. Also, some of the supernatural moments are a little bit paint-by-numbers. That’s pretty much it.

Now for the positives. The core plot point—a sonata that doubles as an occult ritual—is delicious. If some of the set pieces are less than original—like spooky children, the false jump scare, and so on—it doesn’t matter. They don’t carry the story. The sonata does.

The acting is uniformly great. Tingley rescues a character who, in lesser hands, would have been simply unlikeable. The set and direction are superb, and the film positively hums with atmosphere.

The direction is unashamedly gothic and Desmond’s flourishes are spot on. Boldest of these is the opening, filmed from Marlowe’s point of view. Like the narrator in an M.R. James story, he drinks his wine and carries a candle through the chateau. Less radical choices are the lingering close-ups of keys and statues. It’s all done well and quite intoxicating. Throw in a late performance of the full sonata—which is quite a piece of music—and you’ve got a heady brew indeed.

To sum up, I loved The Sonata and heartily recommend it. Given its current price, I encourage you to dive right in and buy it to keep on Amazon Prime. I’m crossing my fingers for a physical release in the UK, because I’d buy a copy to put on the shelf—which is the highest compliment I can pay a VOD release.

As a horror fan, I don’t think there are enough films like this. Lots of films have the classic ghost story feel, and lots of others have goofy genre excesses. Very few offer both at the same time. If this is indicative of Andrew Desmond’s style, it’s right up my street and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his films. Try it yourself and see if you agree!

About the author

My name is Ellis. When I’m not reviewing movies, I write short stories about ghosts. If you like supernatural stalkers, you might enjoy Shallow Man, which is free to read online.

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