Genre: Horror • Action
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson, Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen
Duration: 96 min.
Nazis guard a fortress containing a dangerous force that starts wreaking havoc and death upon them, forcing them into an uneasy alliance with a Jewish professor who has knowledge of it.
The Keep is a supernatural horror film directed by Michael Mann, based on a novel by F. Paul Wilson. It is Mann's second film as a director and is a bit of an anomaly in his career known mostly for action crime thrillers.
The scenario is a fascinating one. A squad of Nazis led by Captain Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) are sent to guard a strategic mountain pass in the Carpathian region of Romania. There they make camp in an ancient and mysterious keep, and on the first night, soldiers inadvertently unleash an evil force while looking for hidden treasure. Soon the men start getting killed off by an unknown entity and the Germans send for Dr. Cuza (Ian McKellen) an old Jewish professor who has studied the keep.
Visually it is an amazing film with the beautiful cinematography that Mann films are famous for, featuring some great set pieces namely inside the keep itself where most of the film takes place and also the surrounding village. In addition, the moody synthesizer soundtrack composed by Tangerine Dream is also fantastic, despite not quite fitting the era of the story, it really helps to build the eerie atmosphere in a way that a traditional orchestral score might not.
The cast is a talented one, led by Jurgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen and also featuring Scott Glenn as a man with a mysterious past, Alberta Watson as the professor's daughter, and Gabriel Byrne as an SS officer who arrives to take over when the troubles start. However the performances are hindered badly by uneven post production dubbing.
Unfortunately, Mann fails to convert the promising source material into a coherent film. First of all no background into the mythology of the place is given at all. So when Scott Glenn's character is introduced, we don't know who he is or what he has to do with anything. Only that he must be somehow important to the film, as it keeps showing him making his way to the keep, sailing on a boat and riding a motorcycle through the woods. In fact we never really find out even after the end what his deal was.
Also, none of the characters in this jumbled mess are developed so we don't really care who lives or dies, or even if the evil demon escapes to take over the world. Then there's a completely unnecessary romantic interlude thrown in, and by the time the final act comes around it's hard to maintain any interest because it is painfully obvious how the final confrontation will play out, and the last 20 minutes are just a waiting game for the end credits.
It's too bad because the setting and setup held so much promise. With all the pointless remakes being done today, if ever any story warranted a retelling, it would be this one.
— Bonjour Tristesse
This post was written for the LAMBs in the Director's Chair #20 starring Michael Mann.