An homage to vintage Italian horror pictures, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's astonishing, fearlessly arty "Amer," which means "bitter" in French, is a bravura exploration of fear and desire, a visual tour de force composed of cropped images, strobe cuts, bizarre psychological twists and a steamy sensuality. Consistently outrageous and relentlessly surreal, the Belgian film is, intentionally or not, frequently funny; it's also compelling and distinctive. It is strongly atmospheric rather than scary, and its climactic sequence has the poetic, scalpel-like precision of a Dario Argento horror classic.
The setting is a vast Mediterranean-style mansion overlooking the sea. A little girl, Ana (Cassandra Forêt), is surrounded by a steady flow of macabre incidents — keyhole-peeking, doors being locked and unlocked, dark, fleeting figures glimpsed. Then there is the room her parents say she must not enter but, of course, does, unleashing dark rituals and a touch of the supernatural. Or is it just a child's exceedingly vivid and dark imagination?
Soon, it shifts to a more naturalistic pace as the now teenage Ana (Charlotte Eugène Guibbaud) and her beautiful mother (Bianca Maria d'Amato) stroll into town. While her mother visits a beauty salon, Ana has an intense encounter with a group of bikers, unleashing a montage charged with fear — and a confounding eroticism, which in turn keys the film's final sequence: The adult Ana (an elegant Marie Bos) returns to the now-deserted mansion with a taxi driver (Harry Cleven), setting the stage for an increasingly nightmarish adventure in which Ana's terrors and longings at last collide.
"Amer." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In French with English subtitles. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.