An ancient Italian city, a mourning parent, a ghostly, potentially threatening presence – don’t look now, but there appears to be a Roeg element at work in the latest effort from Michael Winterbottom.
Having tackled fact (A Mighty Heart, The Road To Guantanamo), fiction (Jude, Code 46) and various stages in between (24 Hour Party People, A Cock & Bull Story), has the prolific Brit auteur now added supernatural thriller to his lengthy list of genre experiments?
Yes and no. You can’t miss the supernatural in this atmospheric story of a family haunted by the loss of one of its members. There aren’t many thrills, though, in a film that spends so long setting up its spooky scenario its ending almost feels like an afterthought.
After losing his wife Marianne (Hope Davis) in a car accident, university lecturer Joe (Colin Firth) carts their two daughters off to Genova in the belief a change of scene will help them deal with their grief. Slutty 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) soon falls in with some local boys who show her the sights – and much else besides – from the back of their Vespas. Having played a part in her mother’s death, meanwhile, 10-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine from Kill Bill: Vol. 2) becomes convinced she is receiving visitations from beyond the grave.
Shot in the director’s normal hand-held style, with shadows and silences that steep the picture-postcard scenery in unsettling menace, Genova proves both quietly affecting and annoyingly insubstantial.
Winterbottom maintains tension by keeping the true nature of Davis’ ethereal cameos a provocative mystery. By the end, though, you’re yearning for a little clarity, Firth’s typically unemotive performance becoming a telling reflection of the film’s overall reluctance to spill its narrative beans.
After his playful turn in Mamma Mia!, Firth cuts an altogether more sombre figure in this thoughtful study of bereavement. With no shock twist or homicidal dwarf up its sleeve, though, Winterbottom’s film seems a little self-defeating.