Spinning off a scientific theory from 1814 by Pierre-Simon Laplace, in which he hypothesizes that a super-intelligence could know the positions, velocities, and forces of all of the atoms in the universe at once, and therefore know their past and future values for all time unfurls a black and white film that’s one part Gothic horror and one part science fiction in Giodano Giulivi’s sophomore feature. A team of scientists feel that they’ve cracked the code of destiny by creating a program that predicts the precise number of pieces a glass will break into upon its fall. A mysterious professor invites them to his isolated mansion to learn more about their studies, but upon their arrival, their would-be host isn’t there. Instead, they’ll discover they’re participants in a much deadlier, larger version of their own experiment.
With the heightened melodramatic flair of the time period it’s trying to emulate, The Laplace’s Demon unfurls like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s visual flair and complementary overblown score embraces its pastiche and should appeal to fans of nostalgia. The group of seven unwitting scientists and their reluctant ferry captain are quickly revealed to be caricatures, rather than fleshed out characters. It’s a tongue-and-cheek approach that works for the overall style and theme, but doesn’t do much to endear the viewer to any member of the group. Save, perhaps, for Sophia (Carlotta Mazzoncini), the lone female of the group and the one that the camera loves to linger on lovingly. Between the camera’s fixation on her, and Mazzoncini’s one note expression of damsel in distress that the viewer draws inference that this should be our protagonist.
The lack of true characterization and Giulivi’s misdirection, the numbers dwindle among the group in unpredictable fashion. When the first couple of characters go missing, I found myself having a hard time recalling which of the group was no longer there, they’re that memorable. However, that’s not exactly the thematic point. Giulivi and writing partner Duccio Giulivi are more interested in the question of fate versus free will. If the Laplace’s Demon theory proves true, then free will can’t possibly exist, can it? Which would make us all tragic cogs in motion. It’s a heavy, interesting theme, that Giulivi only back tracks from in the final act for the sake of creating a more dramatic finish. In that he’s successful, but it unfortunately causes contradictory questions in the very theory he was presenting.
It’s an ambitious attempt for a micro budget affair; the monochromatic filter often does little to hide its c.g. seams. The film is also a bit overlong in run-time. As the body count piles, one by one, in this deadly experiment, too much build up is spent on each one. Considering no time is spent on getting to know any of them beyond their presented archetype, the wait before the next trap can become tedious. Each new victim is supposed to teach the remaining members something new about the experiment, therefore parceling out the exposition needed, but it’s too drawn out.
The very concept on which the screenplay is based is engaging. The idea of fate versus free will is always ripe for exploration, and Giulivi takes it head on with a pastiche that would make Rod Serling proud. Still, while not without flaws, it’s a charming film that will build up a niche following of nostalgic fans.
The Laplace’s Demon made its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 21 to a sold-out crowd, and will screen again on July 24.
The Laplace’s Demon [Fantasia Review]