Guy Maddin’s latest film is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey and is a nostalgic piece shot in beautifully expressive black and white. It follows the Pick family, namely one Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric), a gangster who is returning to his house after a long journey. With him he brings the body of a drowned girl and a bound and gagged young man. He has returned to attempt to find his wife, she is somewhere in the house, but this is no ordinary house. It is full of ghosts and memories and changes constantly and Ulysses must journey through each room of the house in order to find his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini). With the help of the blind drowned girl, Ulysses works his way through the house and its various inhabitants, memories and objects that he encounters along the way.
This description gives the impression that this is a slightly strange narrative story, it is not. Instead it is an extremely bizarre dream-like stream of consciousness experience in the same vein as David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006). Possibly too abstract for a lot of people, Keyhole is like a Lynchian American Horror Story with some 1930s and 40s noir thrown in for good measure and I found it mesmerising.
It is gorgeously depicted in often soft focus and out of focus black and white with a small amount of colour in a couple of shots. There are an abundance of close ups and each frame holds an image that evokes memories of old films, gangster films and ghostly tales. If you allow yourself to flow with it rather than make sense of everything this surreal film begins to become clear through all the haze.
Gangster’s molls linger downstairs with Ulysses Pick’s entourage, a storm rages outside and a strange naked old man narrates. Fragmented encounters occur as Ulysses embarks on his odyssey, a doctor (Udo Kier) arrives to look at the drowned girl and Ulysses is subjected to a stint on an electric chair, surviving as you can’t electrocute someone who has already been electrocuted. Is everybody dead? Is this house purgatory? Who knows? And if it’s answers you are looking for you won’t get them from this film.
However, I was truly hypnotised by Keyhole, which is both thematically and visually fascinating and as soon as I had seen it the desire to watch it again took hold of me. This is more of an experience than anything else and if it will hold up on a second viewing is debatable. Regardless of that this is a distinct and original film that will become embedded in your subconscious for days on end in the form of voices, images and feelings.
Director: Guy Maddin
Writers: Guy Maddin (screenplay), George Toles (screenplay)
Stars: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson
Runtime: 93 mins