Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Directed by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard Maguire
What a gem this was! Featuring six B&W animated shorts about the concept of Peur(s) du Noir or Fear of the Dark, this animated Grimoire recalls the heydays of the ghastly horror-infused graphic novel series Taboo, but in motion picture form, with a little more focus on the sinister, shadowy nightmare corners of our imagination.
Comic book and animation fans are sure to have their curiosity piqued by some or all of the names in the directorial lineup. Personally I was only familiar with Charles Burns, of whom I’ve been a fan ever since I first saw the cover of his Black Hole series. The installment from Burns might as well be a side-story from Black Hole, as it features a very similar narrative theme about young love, anxiety and coming of age, and a grotesque body horror intrusion. The mix is haunting and bleak. This was a cool thing to watch because I always wondered how Burns’s ink-and-detail-heavy imagery would translate to film – it seemed far too specific a technical challenge to able to accomplish on a cell-by-cell animation basis. What they did here was a masterful computerized form of animation. You don’t get the organic visual presence that comes with traditional hand-animation but the effect is nonetheless amazing. (I should add – I heard from a reliable source that Black Hole may be making its way to the big screen in the not too distant future and that David Fincher might be involved – can’t confirm and I’m not personally sure about Fincher’s style with regards to that kind of project as I’d think David Lynch would be a much better fit, but who knows, it could be pretty cool…)
I regret not paying more attention in the credits to the various names and titles in Peur(s) du Noir, as I can’t state for sure which name is attached to which short. But take my word for it – they’re all really good. Not a single frame is wasted in this entire production.
There are two prominent wrap-around animations; One features a hellish Samuel Adams-style colonist character in royal attire wandering the streets of what feels like a nightmarish old European city, unleashing a voracious hell-hound on an innocent at each stop throughout the film. This one is done in charcoal style and it’s pretty amazing the amount of lifelike detail there is in the human and animal movements considering how hard it must be to keep drawings consistent with this particular form.
The other wraparound animation is a meditative series of abstract shapes forming and receding in simple but addictive geometrical and random patterns, complemented by a female voice musing about the nature of fear, in pretty much every sense – personal, irrational, sociological, archetypal, etc. Very interesting stuff that provides a fitting contextual glue between the more narrative-based elements in the series.
There’s a really creepy Manga-esque tale in here, featuring a little girl who appears to be systematically re-induced into a nightmare state by a deranged doctor/therapist, who keeps injecting her when she wakes up in terror, encouraging her to go back into the nightmare and not wake up until she’s seen it all the way through. It reminds you that nightmares aren’t really ever over and they’re always waiting in your mind to unleash themselves on you as you sleep. Even if they’re only cartoons, some of the visions this girl has in this short are really scary. The visual style in this installment is extremely striking and graphic, and has a weird feel to it that sets it significantly apart from your typical Jap-anime drawing style.
Another story features the gloomy recollection of a man who lost loved ones to some unseen nocturnal beast in his past. His tale addresses how mass hysteria can morph an unknown threat into a seemingly insurmountable menace, even if it’s not quite as terrifying once it’s finally dragged out into the daylight and shown for what it is. It also shows how such fear brings out a desperate need for a hero, and the drive to glory in and ritualize the act of neutralizing the threat. Interesting themes to address considering the current state of affairs in our world where it seems everyone is purposely being kept on edge. The tale doesn’t get heavy handed with its metaphors though, it’s more a personal meditation on past experiences and losses. Like everything else in this collection, it is excellent.
Last, there’s an extremely cool animated take on one of the most familiar and atmospheric horror tropes of old – the lone character with a gas lantern in a scary old house. This one made the most use of darkness of any of the stories, and it’s a tribute to the creativity and imagination of the artist that such a pronounced effect can be incurred with such limited information on the screen. All you get is the meager angle on the surroundings that the small light offered by the lantern can accommodate. This limitation is exploited to fantastic effect, particularly in a scene where a fireplace is stoked, briefly illuminating an entire room the only time in the entire story. The artist also effectively captures that eerie way in which things that aren’t there tend to appear when you’re scared and don’t have a lot of light in your surroundings.
All in all, this is one of the best animated efforts I’ve seen – in any genre. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5
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