Review by Darren Gaskell
*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, ALTHOUGH NONE OF THEM MAY ACTUALLY SPOIL THE MOVIE BECAUSE IT’S SO STRANGE ***
Even as a youngster it was clear that Bernard had an ear for music, picking up rhythms and melodies in the ambient noise which surrounds all of us every day. Flash forward to Bernard as an adult (played by Jason Dugre) and he’s still a genius when it comes to tuneage but such talent – and possibly the questionable way in which it has been developed – has brought its own set of challenges. He’s teetering on the brink of insanity and he appears to be on the run, but from what? Also, you do not want to know what’s in the bag he’s carrying with him.
From the unique creative force which is Gabe Bartalos, Saint Bernard is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen some strange ones, let me tell you. If you go into this completely cold, you will have absolutely no idea what’s coming next. If you go into this armed with spoilery knowledge, you’ll wonder what drugs your source of information was on.
To say Bartalos has an interesting filmography is an understatement. Getting his start with John Carl Buechler’s Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, he worked on the Klaus Kinski chiller Crawlspace and since and subsequently supplied has talents to genre icons such as Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon and Frank Henenlotter. He’s also been involved in more mainstream fare such as Gremlins 2, the 1998 incarnation of Godzilla and the Kate Beckinsale vampire flick Underworld.
To those of you who like their plots linear, I’m going to have to warn you right now that Saint Bernard is going to test your patience and then some. To those of you who appreciate a dash of strangeness added to their movie viewing, this one is likely to push your weird movie tolerance to the absolute limit. Make no mistake, this is by no means an easy watch.
A lot of you may not last the distance – many of you might not even get halfway and some of you might well have had enough by 20 minutes in – and my guess is that Gabe Bartalos doesn’t give two hoots if you don’t. This is a film which provides no help whatsoever in navigating its warped journey and its almost total lack of exposition is both maddening and admirable depending on how much you’re willing to commit.
This isn’t so much a story as a series of nightmarish shorts which are connected in the very loosest sense. It’s akin to wandering around a video exhibition where each different room is a new, abstract experience, often with the main character as the only common denominator. Eventually there’s the merest hint of conventional narrative coming into play as we head towards a climactic showdown but even this is executed in its own skewed fashion and closes on a final note which is likely to annoy just as much as it is to delight.
So, what can you expect if you take the plunge? Well, there are keys everywhere. There’s a bizarre police station headed up by a cigar smoking, wine-swilling, man/troll hybrid. Hairy stick men wander around. Drug paraphernalia abounds. Limbs are shredded. Fluids spill. Uncooked chickens are parachuted in. A catapult appears out of nowhere. I’m not making any of this up.
Saint Bernard is a film which defies convention, defies genre and certainly defies my ability to review it on any kind of regular basis. Did I enjoy it? I really don’t know. Did I get what was going on? I really don’t know.
Regardless, it’s a piece of work which is truly a one-of-a-kind vision and for that alone I believe it should be experienced. You may come out of it none the wiser but you’re unlikely to forget it in a hurry. I’ve continued to think about Saint Bernard since I viewed it and isn’t that exactly the function of the best art? In which case, this could be the greatest movie ever. Or the absolute worst. Or somewhere in between.
I really don’t know.
Rating: ?/5 (honestly, assigning a rating to this feels completely irrelevant)