It’s hard to believe that we’re just six months removed from the sudden, tragic passing of Rutger Hauer, a fearless actor who made millions of fans believe in replicants, who delighted as an armed hobo and who made many, including me, think twice about ever stopping for a hitchhiker.
If there’s a silver lining when an icon of cinema shuffles off toward the unknown, it’s that they often leave behind a slew of completed projects to be released posthumously.
Hauer’s indelible mark cannot be overlooked in “The Sonata,” even if the majority of his screen time is spent peering into your soul from a haunting portrait that hangs in the music room of his character, Richard Marlowe, a famed if reclusive composer whom the world has forgotten.
“The Sonata” marks the first feature film from director/co-writer Andrew Desmond, and it’s an effective gothic thriller that follows Marlowe’s estranged daughter, Rose (Freya Tingley), who just happens to be a classical violinist and a rising star.
When Rose arrives in France at her father’s castle-like estate, she’s trying hard to reconcile her bitterness at never having known her dad. Once she discovers a locked desk and finds the key, however, everything changes as Rose discovers what appears to be Marlowe’s final violin sonata, which has never been published.
The sonata is marked by a series of symbols amid the musical notes that neither she nor her agent Charles (Simon Abkarian) can decipher, but once they go digging, Charles locates a music historian who tells him that the sonata was the culmination of Marlowe’s life’s work and that the symbols are actually sigils from a French secret society who believed that when inserted just so into music could open a portal and initiate a dialogue with the Antichrist.
Was it written for Rose? Come on, have you ever seen a horror movie before?
Before she can sit down and actually try to play the sonata, Rose first takes a brief walk into the forest adjacent to her father’s estate and stumbles across a chapel that looks as if it has been abandoned for decades. Inside, however, deep down in the basement, Rose uncovers a series of ominous murals depicting demons and a medieval torture chamber/recording studio complete with an old tape recorder and a mountain of cassettes.
It turns out Marlowe wasn’t just trying to compose a masterpiece; he was abducting local children and using their screams of torment to help him fuel his sonata.
Most people, at this point, would high tail it straight to the airport and never look back. But this being a horror movie, Charles browbeats Rose into playing the piece just once. Rose objects, of course, and shouts about the music corrupting Charles, but still, she picks up her violin and…
It wouldn’t be nice to spoil all the surprises in “The Sonata,” but I will say this, spoiler or not.
While Desmond has done a bang-up job recreating the mood and atmosphere of a lost classic from Hammer Film Productions, he kind of rushes the big climax, even though his entire movie has marched with purpose toward that very moment.
Instead of taking care to create something truly memorable in its final encounter, “The Sonata” feels too quick and too tidy and it squanders 80 minutes of taunt mystery for a so-so CGI swirl of evil that is barely above the quality you might find on network TV. The handful of dead children that appear without warning in the third act, but do little other than stare, also feel like an afterthought, like someone said in the editing bay, ‘Hey, we’re making a spooky movie, maybe we need some creepy kid ghosts, you know, just cuz.’
Even the final scene feels telegraphed right down to the splash of CGI hellfire flickering in one character’s eyes.
Given that this is just one of several final films yet to be released, according to Hauer’s IMDb profile, there’s still hope that we might get one last classic role from a performer who ignited our imaginations so often and with such impact.
Sadly, “The Sonata” is not it.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell, and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.