Il demone di Laplace [The Laplace’s Demon] (2017)

“We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”

— Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

Some films just look so good that you have to love them no matter what their shortcomings.

This is one of them.

And, truth be told, there aren’t all that many shortcomings to The Laplace’s Demon.

From the stunning image of the sinister house perched high atop a rocky island, to the lush, ornate and yet somehow unsettling décor, to the moody high contrast black and white cinematography, it all conspires to create a palpable mood of darkness, mystery, despair and doom. There’s an Art House edge to it all, and hint of Sixties Euro Horror, of New Wave Cinema, and something more classic and Hollywood. It is the perfect setting for an old-fashioned Old Dark House thriller.

Which is exactly what we have here — more or less — albeit a strange and unconventional one.

Certainly the scenario is classic — so classic that the filmmakers acknowledge their debt to Rene Clair’s marvelous And Then There Were None — with a small group of people summoned to a sinister castle by a mysterious host none of them have met.

However, once they are trapped inside with no sign of their host — as we’ve expected — they find something truly unexpected: a detailed replica of the house, and inside, a set of moving chessmen, powered by a complex clockwork machinery, whose actions exactly mirror their own. However, there are no hidden cameras, they are not being monitored or spied upon. Someone has predicted their every move, long before they ever were invited to the island…

…And the house’s machinery starts killing them off one at a time.

As we’ve been expecting.

I find it rather fascinating that they used a very old-school technique, rear projection, to “extend” their rather limited “sets.” I really hadn’t guessed this — in fact, I thought that far more of their surroundings were real than was the case. It looks mostly real with a bit of digital help (although some elements like the house model are clearly CGI). I suspect that the look of greenscreened backgrounds is so familiar how that we easily recognize it, consciously or not — and that using rear projection might make it easier to get the lighting right, something even major Hollywood films often fail to do.

So you young Independent filmmakers out there might want to pay attention — after all, there aren’t too many Indie films out there that look this good — and most of those probably cost more.

You may have noted that there are four names who show up repeatedly throughout the credits and share the credits for the script and story: Giordano Giulivi, Silvano Bertolin, Ferdinando D’Urbano, and Duccio Giulivi. In fact, Giordano Giulivi directed as well, and the other three all get to play fairly large parts. This is Giordano Giulivi’s second feature: the first, the Indie comedy Apollo 54 drew a lot of attention in the Indie circuit but like too many other Indie films has pretty much sunk without a trace.

Where The Laplace’s Demon falls down is in the science.

The “Demon” is associated with the Nineteenth Century mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace, who stated the basic notion quoted above. What we are talking about here is a rigid, materialist determinism. Laplace argued that, if we knew the location and momentum of every atom in the universe, we could predict every future or past event with Newton’s classic laws of motion.

Which, yes, includes our every action, making free will an illusion.

While this remains a very popular idea today, the problem, of course, is that we are not live in a Newtonian, mechanistic universe any more — and this just isn’t going to work in our modern universe. Not in the relativistic Einsteinian universe, nor in the probabilistic world of Quantum Mechanics.

Let’s face it, Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem raises the question of whether mathematics itself is up to such a challenge.

Still, we are talking a clever and well-written film which deliberately harks back to some very classic films. Perhaps it could have used a more-sympathetic character or two, and it would have helped if there was some sense of justice to the deaths (as in the classic Agatha Christie novel).

And those of you who do believe in a deterministic universe may find the hints that actually being able to make these sorts of predictions leads to your death more supernatural than scientific.

But it is so rare to find a horror film these days which relies mood, atmosphere and suspense and never sheds a drop of blood.

And it is even harder to find one that looks this good.

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2 thoughts on “Il demone di Laplace [The Laplace’s Demon] (2017)

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