A Bring Out the GIMP (Girls in Merciless Peril) Movie Review


Reviewed by Eda Chang

I finally watched Maleficarum, and, even after all I had read about it, I was absolutely stunned!!

The quality of the cinematography, sets and costumes gives the film a definite sense of "big budget theatrical release," which is completely unexpected for a film in this genre. As much as I have enjoyed other films in which the fearless Amy Hesketh/Jane von Detlefson has appeared (like Agent X), none of those presented a film of this technical quality and eye for detail.

While the torture scenes are incredible (a lot more about that below), the film does not rush into them, but takes the time necessary to properly to set up its story and characters, and does so with a calm that very much contrasts with later events. For a time, in fact, I was convinced that the head of the church, the women's main accuser, truly was interested in saving their souls, rather than in taking their money. While the viewer certainly knows that things will not go well for Lady Francisca [Mila] when she does not immediately agree to the church's request that she continue the large donations made by her parents, the background music remains soothing, rather than ominous, and continues in a low key fashion throughout the film, thereby adding to the contrast of what is happening in the scenes over which it plays. Even the opening questioning of the two women is understated, although Lady Mariana [Amy] gradually becomes more terrified as it becomes apparent that the charges against her are far more serious than her mere involvement in the minor altercation that leads to the appearance of the two ladies before the inquisitor tribunal.

The juxtaposition throughout the film of the scenes in which the head inquisitor calmly questions the many witnesses against the women with the scenes of Mariana and Francisca being brought to the dungeon, stripped, chained to the wall and then subjected to a variety of tortures designed to obtain their confessions was masterful, effectively portraying that what lay just beneath the facade of a calm search for the truth was unimaginable tension, terror and pain.

The dungeon set, as expected, offers a sense of absolute doom and dread, with its hard, cold stone walls and dim flickering lights. The ways in which the director, Jac Avila, has the two women chained and stretched make it obvious that he knows how to create, consistently, scenes that are visually appealing and exciting to the viewer, while, at the same time, magnifying the horror facing his subjects. Both Mila and Jane are absolutely beautiful in their extended whipping scenes, during which both show proper reaction as the pain builds as their tortures harshen. Jane's whipping scene is particularly brutal, since she is forced to hang by her chained wrists with her feet off the ground, her body swinging with each lash, a position that, on its own, certainly must have caused great pain to her shoulders. Nor are there any weak flicks of the wrist from their torturer, but full arm motion with every blow. Whatever filming techniques may have been used, it is impossible to believe that Jane and Mila were not subject to some real pain during the filming of these whipping scenes. And their reactions remain consistent with their characters, with one stronger than the other (as their characters remain throughout the film).

Mila and Jane are also both stunningly filmed in their respective scenes on the rack, the beauty of their stretched and sweating bodies, backs arched off the rack's table, enhanced by the varying camera angles, particularly the shots from the overhead camera. There is no bend in their wrists or knees, which are shown chafed and bleeding as the ropes securing them dig deeply. While the viewer does not expect that the women are actually being stretched to their absolute limit, it is certainly easy to believe that they are, which, after all, is the goal of good filmmaking.

Repeatedly in the middle of the torture scenes, the men from the church enter, calmly ask whether the tortured women are ready to talk, and then, just as calmly leave to allow the tortures to continue when the women refuse to respond. Unlike the large majority of the film's viewers, the men from the church are not excited by the torture of naked women, but simply want their confessions and the transfer of their wealth to them. That they are such cold pitiless men adds to the terror of the women's plight.

Other of the torture scenes are out of the norm even for films in this genre, and have never been done as well as they are here on those very few occasions where they might be found elsewhere. I can't say more about them in order to limit the "spoiler" content of this review.

That is not to say that I do not have some criticisms of the film:

(1) While Amy is an excellent actress, Mila does not yet have the training or experience to match Amy, but I expect that Mila's acting will improve with time, and this criticism relates only to Mila's delivery of her dialogue, as she gives an excellent performance in her reactions to her tortures.

(2) I would have preferred that Francisca and Mariana not have been subject to the same tortures (for example, the same whipping and rack tortures), particularly not one after the other, during the first half of the film. I also would have preferred a torture to Francisca other than a repeat whipping after her sentencing.

(3) I don't know why Mariana's clothes were put back on before she was taken outside, only then to be immediately removed again. Nakedness indoors has a degree of privacy, while nakedness outdoors exposes one, at least figuratively, to the whole world. So leaving Mariana naked when she was moved outdoors would have, I think, more realistically and more strongly conveyed the sense of increased psychological exposure that the film apparently sought.

(4) The ending, which I can't reveal for "spoiler" reasons. I have several thoughts as to why the particular ending was chosen, but, even if my suspicions are correct, there are several other possible endings that I would have preferred.

In the present poll, I gave my vote to spies over witches, and that remains my preference. But, as I also said when I gave my vote, that did not mean that I did not enjoy a good story about accused witches. And Maleficarum is a great story about accused witches and more.

My grade: Solid A. And the only reasons I do not give it an A+ are: (1) the ending; and (2) it's about witches, not spies.

My Grade: A


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