15 June 2024
Read Bradley Hadcroft's review of Pandemonium now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video and streaming on ARROW

Film Review – Pandemonium (2023)

Hell knows no forgiveness in this morbidly Miltonic deconstruction of mankind’s predisposition for sin and its fallout in a terrifying Danteworld.

Nathan’s car has smashed into Daniel’s motorcycle on a mountain road. As the two men discuss the incident it transpires they are both actually dead and are in an ethereal limbo ahead of spiritual judgment. Initially, two doors, one emitting the soothing sounds of trumpets and harps, the other a cacophony of anguished screams, appear with clear destination connotations.

Nathan ends up entering the door to hell, after no small encouragement from a huge spider demon, where he encounters beshrouded and motionless bodies and becomes privy to the guilt, neglect, and insanity that secured their eternal damnation.

Eccentric filmmaker Quarxx shows little regard for cinematic conventions in this mean-spirited follow-up to his superb All the Gods in the Sky. A viciously nihilistic indictment of the absurdity of sin as a relatable concept it tramples the notion of adhering to a standardised structure under its cloven hooves.

One minute we are immersed in a dialogue-heavy character piece with heavy overtones of a stageplay, the next we become hypnotised by lush surrealism and gothic fairytale before being dumped in the demonic claustrophobia of what Hellboy would have looked like if Gaspar Noé had been at the helm.

One could argue that Quarxx’s delirious film plays out like a disjointed horror anthology with an arthouse wrap-around thread, yet in his cultured clutches, it works just fine as a middle finger to lazy expectations. It may be relatively linear and simplified in terms of its literary reference points, Pandemonium is, of course, the capital of Hell in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Dante’s circles are flaming jumping hoops here, but it is the spectre of the late 70’s/early 80’s French cinema that pulls the main strings. Indeed, It is the heavy influence of cult director Bertrand Blier’s woozy Buffet Froid from 1979 that dictates the surrealist atmosphere that haunts Quarxx‘s movie.

This eclectic mix of mediums is just standard for Quarxx. Previously a painter and photographer before succumbing to the lure of the screen he does not choke when it comes to making bold artistic gestures. Nor does he shirk from controversy when confronting the darkness of the human condition. His obsession with light and framing translates perfectly into the vitality of cinema and as a result, Pandemonium rocks a gorgeous aesthetic despite its theologically depressing mentality.

There are a plethora of spiky themes and sly digs, social and cultural, on show but much of the joy comes from taking the left-field turns and experiencing the erratic hall of mirrors shocks along the way. Diverse and heterogeneous they form an organic collage of images and emotions consistent with Quarxx’s creative bravado. Depictions of extreme sufferance, denial, and heartbreaking loss jostle with cruel bullying, the perceptions of princessly behaviour, and the simple delights of jam on bread for screen space. It’s a kaleidoscope of a movie that takes a few twists of the lens before its true identity crystalises into sharp relief.

Most surprising is the film’s capacity for visual and linguistic humour, both whimsical and grim. This forms a much-welcome buffer for the bursts of horrific violence, oven-based child murder, and tortuous misery. Once we enter the final stretch of Nathan’s arduous odyssey of the soul Pandemonium actually becomes a whole load of gory fun with a deliciously cynical ending.

Packed with fine performances that have the power to engage and resonate, with a confident script and superb cinematography and set design, Pandemonium should thrill fans of existential arthouse head-fuckery and emotionally gruelling horror alike.

★★★★

Horror, Surrealism | France, 2022 | 18 | Stream, Blu-Ray | ARROW Video | Dir. Quarxx | Hugo Dillon, Ophelia Kolb, Arben Bajraktaraj, Manon Maindivide

This is a repost of our Pigeon Shrine FrightFest review 2023 | original review link


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