Death and the Maiden

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver) lives as a housewife, but she is haunted by a dark portion of her past. She tries to suppress this span of time, in which she was taken prisoner by a government regime, but it surfaces at times. Paulina was first taken hostage, then beaten, raped, and tortured, all while blindfolded, so she couldn’t even the man responsible for enacting such brutal tasks on her. Now she just tries to lead a normal life, with her husband Gerardo (Stuart Wilson), who has a prominent law practice. Her life was shattered by the horrific events of the past, but now she is putting the pieces back together. One night, she expects her husband home for dinner, but the weather kicks up and she is forced to eat alone. This raises her ires a little, so even when he does arrive home, she is on edge. He had to catch a ride with a neighbor Dr. Roberto Miranda (Ben Kingsley), who happened to be on the road also. When Paulina hears Dr. Miranda’s voice, her mind races back toward the dark corners of the past, as she remembers his voice as the one of the man who tortured her. When the chance arises, she takes him hostage and is determined to learn the truth about the incidents. But as time passes and tension mounts, will anything good come out of this hostile and dangerous situation?

This movie has never been given much attention, which is a shame, as Death and the Maiden is a great picture. Now that director Roman Polanski has won an Oscar, New Line has issued two of his movies, but put little effort into the releases. At least the films are in widescreen, though some kind of substantial supplements would have been welcome. Death and the Maiden is sure to get some added exposure thanks to Polanski’s win, but those in search of another The Pianist should look elsewhere. This is a tight thriller that walks a thin line of tension, but stays the course thanks to Polanski’s masterful direction. The suspense drips in some scenes, as the tension mounts and mounts at the perfect pace. I’ve seen a lot of thrillers and most run either too fast or too slow, both of which can hinder the experience, but Death and the Maiden is right on speed. Just brisk enough to keep your attention, but slow enough to wrench every last drop of tension from the material, this is some stunning work, to be sure. A few scenes don’t pack the full impact, but on the whole, this is a tight and effective thriller. The storyline is great and offers some nice twists, while the performances of Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver are terrific. So if you’re looking for a top notch thriller, check out Death and the Maiden.

If you make a list of all the kick ass females in the movie business, the ones that can play the bitch better than anyone, Sigourney Weaver would have to be included. She has taken on some harsh roles that require some serious badass moments, but she does so with ease and always delivers a terrific performance. In Death and the Maiden, she has that kind of role, but her toughness comes in the form of ice cold blood and a twisted mind. The character has an inner motor that pushes these traits with good reason however, so perhaps Weaver drew upon those elements to enhance her performance. And since this cast has only a few pivotal roles, it was crucial that she step up and give a commanding effort. Weaver is able to play off her costars well, with a realistic sense of wrath and betrayal, which seems to multiply as the film unfolds. I can think of a few actresses who could have done well in this role, but I don’t think anyone could have matched Weaver’s work, or even come too close. Other films with Weaver include Ghostbusters, Heartbreakers, The Ice Storm, Alien, Working Girl, and Half Moon Street. The cast also includes Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List, Species), Stuart Wilson (The Mask of Zorro, The Age of Innocence), and a slew of one timers, who didn’t show up in any other productions.

Video: How does it look?

Death and the Maiden is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As usual, New Line has supplied a nice looking visual effort. The movie was made on a slim budget however, so the source elements have some minor defects here and there. I saw some grain in most scenes, as well as small nicks in some places, but these errors were minimal and never turned into distractions. The image has a good level of detail, with only a few scenes on the soft side, so the visuals are never held back in this treatment. The colors here are often muted, but that’s intentional and when needed, the hues take on a brighter, bolder presence. This movie has a lot of dark scenes, so its good news that the contrast looks good, to be sure. The black levels come off as smooth and well balanced, so murkiness is never a factor here. All in all, this presentation is quite good and notches another success for New Line.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included stereo soundtrack is by no means electric, but it handles the material well and no real problems arise. The film is soaked in tension, so the audio often sneaks in to enhance that atmosphere, which creates even more tension. That means the eerie environment stays tight and tense, which is just what we needed in this case. The music adds some extra life to the experience also, while dialogue is clean and flawless. This movie isn’t all about dynamic presence and surround use, but the audio is still solid and effective. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, should you need those.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

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