January 10, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Andrew Desmond
Culture Representation: Taking place in England and France, “The Sonata” is a horror flick that centers mostly on people in the European world of classical music, a culture that is almost exclusively Caucasian.
Culture Clash: A supernatural ghost story, “The Sonata” uses the age-old conflict of good versus evil, with a minor subtext about resentments that working-class people can have for people in the upper class.
Culture Audience: “The Sonata” will primarily appeal to people who have the time to watch a B-movie that covers a lot of the same tropes that many other horror movies have already covered.
When it comes to horror movies about evil spirits, “The Sonata” follows the formula so closely that horror fans can easily predict what’s going to happen. Directed by Andrew Desmond, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur Morin, “The Sonata” checks the boxes of many familiar clichés used by movies of this ilk. Attractive young lead actress? Check. Spooky old house? Check. Nightmarish sightings of dead people? Check. The first two acts of the movie are far superior to the third and final act, which devolves into a disappointing dud. But if you must sit through this movie, here’s what to expect, without revealing any spoilers.
Rose Fisher (played by Freya Tingley), a British woman in her late 20s, is a talented and intensely focused professional solo violinist whose life revolves around her work. From the first scene, we find out that she’s an emotionally distant loner with no family ties. When her agent/manager Charles Vernais (played by Simon Abkarian) interrupts her rehearsal to inform her that her father has died, her response is: “I don’t have time for this right now.”
It turns out there’s a reason for Rose’s cold reaction to the news of her father’s death: He abandoned her and her mother (who is now deceased) when she was just 14 months old. The death of her father also exposes the secret that Rose has been keeping for years: Her father was the famous composer Richard Marlowe (played by Rutger Hauer), who disappeared at the height of his fame and became a recluse in France. Because of his abrupt departure from the spotlight, many people had assumed he had died years earlier.
Rose never really knew her father, and he never kept in touch with her and her mother. Therefore, Rose doesn’t really feel sad that he’s died, and she doesn’t even ask how he passed away. (It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that he set himself on fire.) Before his death, she had also kept her father’s identity a secret from everyone (including Charles) in her line of work because she didn’t want to trade in on his name to advance her career. It should be noted that Dutch actor Hauer, who died in July 2019, has screen time in the movie that’s less than 10 minutes, so it would be a mistake for people to think he has a lead role in this movie.
Richard Marlowe did not leave a will, and Rose is his only heir. She finds out that even though he didn’t have much money, he did leave behind his secluded mansion in France and all of his copyrighted work, so Rose inherits it all. Rose decides to bail out on some commitments to do concerts and album work by traveling to France to check out the mansion. Charles is naturally upset by her decision, and there’s further tension in the relationship when Rose tells him that a big agency has offered to sign her. Ultimately, she sticks with Charles, who is (as he points out to her) the only person in her life who’s like a family member to her.
Early on in the movie, it’s established that Rose is a loner, so it actually makes sense that she has no qualms about staying in an isolated mansion by herself. Soon after arriving, she meets the housekeeper Thérèse (played by Catherine Schaub-Abkarian), who goes to the mansion once a week to clean and do other domestic duties. Thérèse tells Rose that when her father was alive, he kept to himself and was despised by the townspeople, who suspected that he was behind the disappearance of a local boy, who has remained missing. Thérèse also tells Rose how her father died.
While looking through some items in her father’s study, Rose finds a hand-written sonata in a locked desk drawer. Because her father’s initials are signed at the end of the sonata, she rightfully assumes that he was the one who wrote it. There are also four mysterious symbols on the sheets of paper. It’s easy to figure out that these symbols have something to do with the dark and foreboding atmosphere in and around the mansion. When Rose plays the sonata, she sees a shadowy adult figure, which just as quickly disappears. Thus begins her sightings of ghostly figures (some more menacing than others) in her nightmares as well as in her waking hours. It’s clear that playing the sonata has unleashed something evil.
Meanwhile, Rose tells Charles about the secret sonata, which was her father’s last work, and sends it to him to take a look at it. Charles does some research on the Internet and finds a video of an old TV interview that Marlowe gave about a masterpiece that he was working on at the time. Figuring out that the hidden sonata is the masterpiece in question, Charles goes behind Rose’s back and consults with some industry experts to feel out the market value of the sonata and to ask if they know what the mysterious symbols mean. There’s an ulterior motive to these consultations: Charles (a former classical musician and a recovering alcoholic) is in a precarious financial situation, since Rose (his only client) still might end up leaving him for a big agency, so he’s looking for a way to cash in on the sonata for some financial security.
While Charles consults with the enigmatic Sir Victor Ferdinand (played by James Faulkner), a former colleague of Marlowe’s, Sir Victor tells Charles the true meaning behind the four symbols, which represent power, immortality, appearance and duality. He also reveals that a French secret society created these symbols in the 19th century, and the society had certain beliefs on how to conjure up the devil.
The best parts of “The Sonata” are the production design by Audrius Dumikas, the art direction by Janis Karklins and the cinematography by Janis Eglitis, because they all convincingly evoke the Gothic atmosphere of an old haunted mansion in the French countryside. The film’s musical score by Alexis Maingaud is also effective in eliciting moods in all the right places. Less impressive are the movie’s basic visual effects, which look like something you’d see in a mid-budget TV show. The actors do a competent job with this trite and sometimes problematic script. The melodramatic turn of one of the characters toward the end of the movie is just a little too over-the-top and is almost laughable.
If you’re looking for a horror movie with some mild scares and compelling set designs, then “The Sonata” is worth watching. Just don’t expect to see any scares that are original or an ending that is particularly satisfying.
Screen Media Films released “The Sonata” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on January 10, 2020.