Fantastic Fest Review: Grand Piano


Grand Piano shouldn’t be this good.  But it is.  In fact, I found it rather great. 

Post-Fantastic Fest screening, a lot of descriptions were bandied about.  Many said it was very “DePalma.”  I’d say the film is Hitchcockian and Argento-esque in its execution with a story that feels culled from the brain of Larry Cohen.

But I don’t want all of that to say Grand Piano is simply “homage” because it’s not.  It is very much its own thing and credit for the film rests heavily on Spanish helmer Eugenio Mira who clearly understands how to build good old-fashioned, edge-of-your-seat tension that gets your palms sweaty.

Combine that with a dedicated performance by Elijah Wood and you’ve got a masterful display of suspense that, in my opinion, wins Fantastic Fest.

Now, I say the film “shouldn’t be this good” because – in a logline – the movie’s premise sounds ridiculous.

Wood plays Tom Selznick, a pianist getting ready to perform his comeback show.  He’s already a bit nervous because, during his last performance, he suffered some serious stage fright.  Nevertheless, it’s time to take the stage with his beautiful wife watching on.  The show begins smoothly until he discovers his music sheet contains a warning that essentially says if Tom screws up one note, he’ll die.  Why?  Because a sniper is somewhere in the audience ready to take Tom out.  What unfolds is a cat and mouse game with Tom in the spotlight being forced to play and communicate (via earpiece) with the mystery man who has a gun trained on him and his wife.

It’s a ridiculous concept and the sniper’s motive is equally ridiculous, but Grand Piano trascends all of that.

And it does so because Mira knows pacing.  His editorial timing is terrific.  He knows how to move his camera.  Expect split-screen.  Expect beautiful superimposed shots.  Expect colorful, dramatic lighting (at times) that evokes Suspiria.  Once the threat to Tom is presented, Grand Piano flies along as furiously as Tom’s fingers on his piano keys.

Wood is pitch-perfect as the reserved Selznick and he really sells it as a pianist regaining his confidence and control.  Also expect to see John Cusack (looking very “Martin Blank”) – who mostly commits his voice to the film and is appropriately menacing – and Alex Winter, head of security during Tom’s concert.  It’s great to see Winter and he has a lot of terrific, subtle moments.

Grand Piano is a thoughtful, well-orchestrated (for lack of a better word) thriller.  I couldn’t help but fall in love with it so much more when – during one sequence – Mira uses the sound of falling rain as a replacement for audience applause as Tom looms over his piano.  So, so, so good.  Highly recommended and definitely give it a look when Magnolia releases the film.

(Side note: Be sure to look for a clever reference to Red Lights, from Grand Piano producer Rodrigo Cortes.)

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