Paura 3D (2012)

First published by Little White Lies

As a storybook voiceover narrates how the Russian maid Elena, who had seen something “beyond the pale” in the house where she is employed, had one last thing to do before leaving for good, we watch Elena heading downstairs to the basement, where her bloody doom is shown from the point of view of her unseen killer. This blend of show and tell in the prologue to Paura 3D serves as apt introduction to a film that is constantly negotiating a shadowy subterranean corridor between giallo and fairytale (chiefly E.T.A. Hoffmann’s gothic conte The Sandman).

Cut to modern Rome. Overhearing wealthy customer Marchese Lanzi (Peppe Servillo) announce that he will be out of the country all weekend for a car rally, young mechanic Ale (Domenico Diele) persuades two friends – lovesick student Simone (Lorenzo Pedrotti) and guitarist Marco (Claudio Di Biagio) – that, in the Marchese’s absence, the three of them should drive out in Lanzi’s well-tuned Maserati to his luxurious, and now empty, country villa for a weekend of living it up. Only what they do not know (but we do) is that they are not in fact alone at the villa. Something else lies hidden and waiting down in the basement – and maybe, as one character certainly believes, there is a monster residing upstairs too.

Near the beginning of the Manetti brothers’ film, Simone attends a university lecture on  Mario Bava’s trademark use of colour, lyricism and dreaminess. The scene is clearly designed to place this film within the giallo tradition for which Bava was founding father – even if, apart from  the nightmarish lysergic psycho-delia of the animated opening credit sequence, Paura 3D is dominated by a drab colour scheme more reminiscent of cheap video than anything Bava ever made. Where the film stays much truer to its giallo roots is in its twisted, paranoid psychology, and its careful, often wrong-footing control of perspective. Obnoxious to a fault, Simone, Ale and Marco are hardly the most likeable trio, and the scenes in which they make themselves at home in Lanzi’s villa are irritant and overlong – but once the slightly stoned Simone has headed down into the basement, the film does not stop for breath, leaving viewers no less disoriented than this would-be romantic hero as it veers from torture porn to tense cat-and-mouse to unhinged schizo-drama, with just the hint of a supernatural creature feature.

Ultimately merging elements from Michael and The Woman, and confounding all the usual distinctions between victim and persecutor, Paura 3D looks into the depths of human depravity, and introduces, through a harrowingly exposed performance from Francesca Cuttica, a modern Frankenstein’s monster deserving of our sympathy as much as our terror.

© Anton Bitel