When a medieval monk unexpectedly dies in a horrific way, the Church sends Mateho the Inquisitor, a rational man of science, to investigate the alleged 'witch'. When Mateho himself becomes implicated as more monks die mysteriously, he must learn that science cannot explain the horrors around him, before he is seduced by the evil that haunts this monastery.
The time is the Spanish Inquisition. Inquisitor Mateho (Jake Stormoen) has been called in to a remote mountainside village to investigate the recent death of a monk in the village abbey. He’s joined by his protector/roadie Johnny (Game of Thrones’ Kristian Nairn). The villagers, as well as Abbott Scipio (Michael Flynn) believe it to be the work of an actual witch, and want her burned at the stake immediately. But the Inquisitor insists on doing things his way. Add into the mix, the Inquisitor’s personal history within the labyrinthine abbey as a preteen – and he must deal with the rampant paranoia with the abbey walls – as more monks turn up dead, as well as his journey to remember what happened to him in the sprawling, lower level corridors of this vast and mysterious structure.
The Appearance enjoyed its Utah premiere at this year’s FilmQuest.
The performances from the rather large ensemble cast (aside from a few notable less-than exceptions) are quite good.
As the alleged witch Isabel, held captive in the abbey dungeons, Baylee Self steals the show. Her early appearances, as Mateho tirelessly questions her – are perfectly portrayed to offer up plenty of suspicion as to the character’s actual motives. As Mateho achieves something of a breakthrough with Isabel, Self brings forward more emotion, beyond the blank (and frightening) staring she provided earlier. It’s a gradual unveiling of Isabel’s ultimate history and Self makes it look effortless, eventually moving beyond the mute, tortured person we first meet, into someone well-equipped to handle the situations offered up by the story. Helping her along are her beautiful, wide “Bette Davis Eyes” – so expressive – hiding no secrets as to the character’s innermost thoughts.
As Inquisitor Mateho, Stormoen is a handsome and engaging lead. In any film, your main character must be someone the audience wishes to follow for two hours – regardless of the treacherous journey they must undertake. Stormoen captures the weight and history of his character, and you’ll find yourself rooting for him. It is to Stormoen’s credit that despite Mateho’s sometimes high and mighty attitude (well, he is an Inquisitor after all), you’ll still be on his side. His best moment happens late in the film – with his reaction to a particular tragic event in the story.
There’s a wide open world for potential continuation of Mateho’s exploits, and frankly, I’d be on board to follow him in further adventures. That’s a credit to both the filmmakers as well as Stormoen’s performance.
The film’s most emotional moments come courtesy of Nairn’s Johnny. He’s the loyal puppy-dog to Mateho’s master figure. Nairn turns Johnny into a great big teddy bear. You’ll marvel at the depths of selflessness he brings to this subordinate. Johnny will no doubt be most everyone’s favorite character, and so as the story continues and we see where Johnny’s journey takes him – there will be plenty of moments where his “favorite” status will be confirmed.
And Michael Flynn is wonderfully pious, grotesque and villainous as the head of this particular sect – Abbott Scipio. He not only brings the expected, almost over-the-top nastiness to Scipio, but embeds his character with real fear (although he tries to hide it) and suspicions to match his fellow monks. Whereas Johnny is the character you love to love, Scipio is the character you love to hate.
The big star of The Appearance is the production design. Shot with the glorious exteriors of the great state of Utah, you’ll marvel at the beauty in every shot. And when things move inside, into the cavernous walkways of the abbey, it becomes a matter of trying to take in all of the minute and well-executed pieces in the set designs and costumes – right down to the details of accumulated dust in the abbey’s corridors and door frames.
My avid readers of 4 know that I’m a sucker for attention to detail and the filmmakers and artisans here have truly nailed it. Said components make it easy to transport yourself as an audience member – into this era… where you’ll be taken in by the story and characters, never once worrying about production details which may have been missed. You’re free to simply enjoy and engage with the tale at hand.
This seems piddly to point out, but when I’ve seen enough films where minute details are flubbed – I can assure you that nothing will remove you from the world of the film faster. Glad to say this was not an issue with The Appearance. And for such a deeply period piece as this, that’s no small feat.
And you gotta love all of the wicked medieval torture devices on display here. Nasty and fun (if you’re into that sort of thing).
It’s not all hunky-dory though. I understand the need to unravel a mystery of this kind in slow measure, but The Appearance would have benefited from a slight trim. Don’t get me wrong, I was never bored per se, but getting to the grit of climax and the film’s exciting reveals, could have happened faster.
One of the film’s other assets, is the setting of a supernatural murder mystery, in medieval times. Generally stories set in such an era, are about sword-play, maidens in distress and terrible tyrants ruling over the land. To have a rather intimate tale about a damaged man looking for closure in his own life, while solving an Agatha Christie-esque mystery (albeit with other-worldy overtones) – that’s exciting and new.
The film was nominated for a whopping NINE awards at this year’s FilmQuest, including Best Lead Actor in a Feature – Jake Stormoen, Best Supporting Actor in a Feature – Michael Flynn, Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature, Best Cinematography in a Feature – Benjamin Allred, Best Sound in a Feature (WIN), Best Score for a Feature (WIN), Best Production Design for a Feature, Best Costumes for a Feature and Best Makeup in a Feature,
I also think that Baylee Self’s performance as Isabel was worthy of some awards recognition – or at least a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.
With lavish production design, a strong ensemble of actors and an intriguing mystery to be solved, The Appearance is well worth a watch.
Stay tuned for news on a wider release.