Review by Daniel Lima
Would you sign away your body to an otherworldly entity for a couple of days — with no evidence that it actually exists — if you get a good paycheck at the end of it? That is the question posed by The Complex Forms. That question is ripe for exploring the lengths a capitalist society will drive a desperate person to do. Instead, this is a one-location monster movie that trades contemplation for suspense and heady themes for character drama. It might be frustrating for a film not to take full advantage of such an enticing presence if it weren’t so damn good.
From the striking opening image — an upside-down drone shot of a burning car in beautiful black-and-white, set to a blaring orchestral score — it’s clear that this is the work of a director with vision. That is almost by necessity, with Fabio D’Orta serving not only as director but also as writer, DP, editor, casting director, and just about every other production role, down to creating the special effects. For one person to work so hard to bring a high concept like this to life takes passion, which is reflected in every craft element.
While a micro-budget indie utilizing black-and-white cinematography isn’t rare, making the most of it is. Much attention is paid to the film’s lighting and composition. High contrast makes both shadow and light blinding, and every frame feels deliberate and evocative. The sprawling manor that is the setting is at once grand and opulent and claustrophobic as if all the space is designed to make one restricted with no clear path of escape. Even the music, typically something I pay no mind to, goes a long way in selling the horror — a baroque wall of sound that perfectly reflects the alien nature of the strange creatures.
Yes, the entities are real, which the sharp script wisely reveals quickly. Their chitinous design is genuinely unnerving, and the absence of color helps to obscure the quality of the render in a way that makes them feel even more real. Most of the film centers on star David White and his roommates at this strange estate, uncovering the fine print of their deal and deciding how to respond to it. At barely over an hour, the film moves quickly without feeling rushed, taking time to let tension simmer and the existential horror reveal itself.
That this cast, apart from David White, is entirely made up of non-professional actors is astounding. Dialogue is kept simple and to a minimum, relying on the performances to inform the characters. Michele Venni’s affable older man, Cesare Bonomelli’s laconic brute, and Enzo Solazzi’s stern authoritarian all feel like men with long lives that have led them to this place, and their humanity gives this fantastical premise a grounded sense of stakes it otherwise would not have.
The one place that The Complex Forms falters is the landing. As rigorous and composed as the rest of the film is, the ultimate reveal is sudden and left of field, as if D’Orta wrote himself into a corner and sought to write his way out by simply surprising the audience. That the sociopolitical dimension of the narrative goes underutilized feels like a missed opportunity, as perhaps with that thematic foundation, a satisfying conclusion might be more forthcoming. Even so, this is a fantastic debut film, marking Fabio D’Orta as a filmmaker to watch.
The Complex Forms screened at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival, which ran from January 19-25 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 22-28.