Prolific filmmaker Adrián García Bogliano has created an impressive track record the past few years. From tense thrillers like Cold Sweat to the supernatural dread of Penumbra and Here Comes the Devil, Bogliano has shown himself to be a versatile maestro of the macabre with a strong, unique vision. His latest film, Scherzo Diabolico, is a morbid tale of deception and ambition that plays out like classical tragedy. We witness a man struggle up the ladder, snatch the power from those sitting on the throne, and then fall back into the gutter again (in the most gruesome way possible of course, this is a Bogliano film after all).
Like his other films, Scherzo Diabolico sees Bogliano savoring the chance to subvert genre expectations. Revenge films are always in style and many of them are painfully formulaic. You won’t find any of that here. Bogliano’s story begins with what appears to be a kidnapping plot and then proceeds to sucker punch the audience’s moral compass into a bleeding pulp.
Francisco Barreiro, who previously worked with Bogliano in Here Comes the Devil, stars as Aram, a man who has been emotionally trampled by his professional and personal life. Despite being the hardest worker in his office, his career is going nowhere. At home, his wife doesn’t respect him and constantly reminds him how h’s a shitty father who makes lousy money. Jaded and perhaps simply bored by the mire his life is trapped in, Aram begins hatching a plot to achieve the success he feels he deserves. And it all starts with a kidnapping…
It’s much better to go into Scherzo Diabolico completely cold. I made sure to avoid trailers and whatnot before my screening at the Stanley Film Festival and was knocked on my ass repeatedly with the direction Bogliano takes the film. The piano music of Beethoven and Brahms set a bizarre tone that starts off as blackly humorous and then evolves into something much more sinister.
Barreiro (who also starred in We Are What We Are) does an amazing job juggling the many personas of Amar. He could be likeable and sympathetic in one scene and then cold-blooded in the next. It’s easy to root for him in the beginning and as the twisting narrative unfolds, our sympathy seesaws between love and hate. Through it all Barreiro simply nails it with equal parts nuance and bravado.
Scherzo Diabolico is a brutal little film that pits high drama alongside classic exploitations elements like seedy sex and violence. The film isn’t just your standard boobs and blood show, however. It does have something to say about the masks we wear in our everyday lives, literally and figuratively. Amar wears a mask to transform himself into an evildoer; his wife goes to a costume party to escape her drab husband; his son constantly wears a superhero costume; and other characters are forced to wear uniforms in their professions. Bogliano peels back to look at the darkest parts of human nature beneath these facades.
It’s interesting and meaty stuff that Bogliano address in a subtle and polished way. Through all of the vivid flashes of violence and pitch-black humor, Scherzo Diabolico feels like his most personal and entertaining work yet. There’s a meanness and bleakness to the film that may turn off some viewers, but for those who like their thrillers vicious and devoid of any silver linings, then Scherzo Diabolico is not to be missed.