The Monk | Movie review
A monk becomes a sinner in a thriller from the director of With a Friend Like Harry…
An adaptation of a 1796 gothic novel by English writer Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk opens with a confession scene in which an unidentified man (Sergi López) challenges Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel), a Capuchin monk whose faith rests on the idea that Satan has no power beyond what sinners give him. The rest of the film puts those beliefs to the test, particularly after Ambrosio goes against the counsel of his fellow monks by admitting to their order Valerio (Déborah François), a pitiful, penniless young man who wears a mask to hide a badly burned face. Or so he claims: Valerio has secrets—which go beyond the give-away spoiler of the actress playing the role—and soon Ambrosio finds himself touched by corruption when he starts experiencing sin first-hand.
Lewis’s story takes such lurid twists it would have been easy for The Monk to push the material to camp extremes. Occasionally it feels like that might have been wiser, too. Director Dominik Moll, best known for the Hitchcockian thriller With a Friend Like Harry… (2000), sometimes plays the story stiflingly straight, trying to squeeze creepiness out of images of jutting gargoyles and dark corridors. Fortunately, Cassel’s performance, which finds him falling from grace so rapidly he barely notices, gives The Monk a smoldering center. The cruel payoff will reward patient viewers.