Bela Kiss: Prologue (2013)
Directed by Lucien Förstner
A few years ago, Xavier Gens gave us Frontiere(s), the Texas Chain Saw Massacre-inspired torture flick that followed a group of criminals fleeing Parisian riots, only to wind up at a hotel run by cannibalistic neo-Nazis. It was dark, violent, and perhaps a little too cliche and indebted to the so-called “torture porn” trend, but in the end it was an entertaining and dare I say emotional thriller with a hint of beauty behind it (the haircut scene slayed me). I’m telling you this because if you’re interested in a movie wherein bad people are fleeing something and wind up at a hotel run by worse people, then you should probably just watch Gens’ superior film, rather than Lucien Förstner’s Bela Kiss: Prologue, which I totally thought was a “sexy vampire film” before I looked it up.
Bela Kiss: Prologue opens with a quintet of bank robbers fleeing the scene of the crime, their mysterious leader Nikolai leading them to an isolated hotel outside Budapest wherein philanderers can bring their secret paramours for a romp in the hay. Shortly after arriving, tensions begin to brew among the group; Felix becomes wary of his girlfriend Julia, who appears to be growing closer with her old friend Nikolai, the fires of which are stoked by the hotel’s caretaker Ms. Jakubec. Meanwhile, we’re told through flashback the story of Bela Kiss, a Hungarian serial killer who murdered over two dozen women and hid their bodies in giant barrels of alcohol.
It’s effectively two movies in one: the first, an overlong soap opera involving boring people we don’t care about; the second, a voiceover-laden flashback that suggests Förstner was trying to stay as far away as possible from the blood and gore that pervades the third act. Vague hints suggest Nikolai and Ms. Jakubec, urged on by the robbers’ sinister boss on the other end of a cell phone, are hiding something, while the story of Kiss, relayed by a man who looks a little like Nicolas Cage from Kick-Ass, slowly reveals how it all connects. When the blood begins to fly, it’s fairly tame, with most of the kills occurring offscreen, or consisting of little more than simple blood-letting or a quick stabbing. It’s not enough to satisfy gorehounds, and everything that precedes it isn’t enough to satisfy fans of psychological thrillers.
Eventually these two seemingly disparate storylines coalesce, but neither is engaging or suspenseful, and any momentum gained from the main plot is ruined by Förstner routinely cutting away to show us the backstory of the infamous killer. Förstner tries to keep the twist at bay, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the mystery that shrouds the hotel, and when it’s revealed, it’s a mix of incredibly predictable and downright uninspired. The unlikable and thin characters do little to help, especially the other two robbers, Sophie and Peter, whose roles are relegated primarily to fodder for whatever may be happening in the bowels of the hotel.
There’s a good idea in Bela Kiss: Prologue, but it’s mired in poor execution and lazy writing. It relies on the slowly unveiled mystery to keep you hooked, but it comes at the expense of everything else.
2 out of 5