Thoughts on “The Sonata”

“The Sonata” probably has the perfect structure for a horror movie to provide a mix of exposition and suspenseful horror. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite manage to do enough with this to be a classic.

The basic premise is that a young musician’s estranged father dies and leaves her his old estate. Despite her being very angry with him for abandoning her, she decides to go over and check it out. Meanwhile, her agent — whom she’s in the process of dumping because she feels that she should move beyond him — has been willing to help her regardless, and as strange things start happening in the house he goes along with it and tries to help her figure out what’s going on. Ultimately, it’s revealed that this is a long plan of her father’s to develop and then get her to play a musical piece that will ultimately summon a demon — or perhaps the Devil himself — to Earth.

This is a great structure because it allows the movie to give us the exposition we need to understand what’s at stake while still leaving room for the suspense and terror. What it does is move from scenes where the female lead is wandering around the creepy house and discovering things and experiencing strange events to scenes where the agent is exploring what might be causing them. The exposition scenes give us a break from the suspense — something that was a flaw in “Family Possessions” — and allow them to set up things so that we can see the horror coming in the suspense sections. It also lets them set up the plot so that we understand what’s going on without boring us with long exposition sequences. The sequences last just long enough to explain what we just saw and tell us what we need to know for later in the movie before getting out of the way and letting us get back to the tense horror. And by splitting up the characters, the tense parts of the movie can focus on building up her character as well as paying off the horror without anyone or anything else getting in the way.

The problem is that while they have the structure, they fail to actually make the suspense scenes suspenseful or scary or to properly develop the character of the main female lead. The scares are prosaic at best, and so don’t really scare us. Nor do the scares properly build off of the exposition we are being given. In addition, because those scenes generally only have the female lead in them, we don’t learn that much about her. It can’t really build them through conversation with the minimal cast it allows itself, but it doesn’t use any other techniques to do that either. So, ultimately, we don’t really learn that much about her either, leaving her underdeveloped. In fact, we probably learn more plot-relevant character details about the agent than about her.

Which is a shame, because the story itself screams for us to learn a lot about the female lead. The key aspect to the musical score is the ending, which couldn’t be written by her father because it has to be personal to the person playing the score. Also, her father couldn’t perform it himself because it requires someone who isn’t corrupted, and in fact the reason he left the family was to avoid corrupting her. This makes that personal to her and implies that the ending will critically involve her and who she really is. Two ideas that I had while watching it were that either her purity will cause the ritual to ultimately fail — and imply that it may have been a fool’s dream in the first place — or that she will come to embrace the ritual and the summoning for reasons personal to her.

Instead, none of that happens. The agent is killed due to greed and corruption in encouraging her to perform the ritual, and in the end she is preparing to play the piece in front of a full crowd for … some reason. So the importance of that last bar being about her is lost because we don’t ever learn how she feels about anything or the role her as a person plays in the entire thing. The ritual and most of the movie is ultimately all about her, and yet in the end it ends up being about the demon and the agent and she, as a person, is mostly ignored. This is only made worse by the fact that the actress does a good job portraying her as someone flawed and angry and yet vulnerable and sympathetic as well, so her being shoved into the background can only be seen as a massively wasted opportunity.

I didn’t mind the movie and it’s something that I could consider watching again, but as usual there are other, better things to rewatch if I wanted to. Thus, it goes into the boxes in my closet. Which is a shame, because it had such great potential that it squandered.

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One Response to “Thoughts on “The Sonata””

  1. Slasher Movie Length, Drama Movie Plot | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] amount of characters and a very focused backstory.   While it couldn’t stick the landing, “The Sonata” had a wonderful structure for examining the lead character in more detail and allowing for a more […]

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