I'm not a fan of Guy Maddin's films. Where some revel in the original visuals and the unsettling atmosphere, I find him dull and repetitive. The director has a knack of stretching time; a minute can seem like ten and I don't mean that as a compliment.
Jason Patric is Ulysses Pick, a 1940s gangster who returns home after some time away to discover his house is alive with bad memories and ghosts. With him is a drowning girl and a man bound and gagged; his gang, a ragbag bunch including his mistress, are holed up in his house as the feds pelt the outer walls with bullets. Upstairs somewhere sits his estranged wife Hyacinth (Rossellini) waiting to have it out with him.
We're in David Lynch territory here. A nightmare noir, Maddin's black and white visuals and dutch angles are designed to upset, to unsettle. Keyhole moves like a dream: there are flashes of faces that loom out of shadows and peek in windows, and mocking laughter coming from some other room. Violins play out of tune. Lights flicker. Police searchlights probe the dark corners. Chandeliers swing into view. The camera's inconsistent movement is deliberately off-putting. The oddball narration coming from the naked man who is chained to a bed upstairs (or is he?). In creating an otherworldly scene, Maddin is one of the best around. This is all about style and mood and Maddin impresses on both counts.
For me, however, a film is about story – it's the 'what happens next?' that keeps us watching - and you have to fight the good fight to stay tuned to the story here, which is flimsy at best. Maddin isn’t one to let plot get in the way of the visuals and it's a distancing approach. You're not asked to care what happens to the characters as we're not in a straight narrative world. Imagine a whole movie set in that red curtain room in Twin Peaks where the backwards-talking dwarf doesn't bother even turning up to make things interesting. Keyhole is really about a gangster in purgatory, forced to confront his sins. Is the old man chained upstairs God? The devil? Is it Ulysses himself? Is everyone in the movie dead? Maddin wouldn't be so vulgar as to answer any questions. To be honest, I wouldn't care what the answers are anyway.
Patric, who plays it surprisingly clued in despite the inexplicable madness happening around him, has a ball as he moves from room to room coming to terms with the effect his manner had on those around him, and Maddin even gives him a funny line or two to mess about with it. Moments of levity are thin on the ground, however.