The Nameless

namelessLittle known is Ramsey Campbell in the U.S. He’s a great, prolific writer of supernatural horror and dark suspense. But it wasn’t until I saw The Nameless that I saw his depth of character.

I didn’t read the book, so I can’t compare the film. But it taps veins known to Campbell — dissolution of the family, kids in peril1, bad relationships. Some details are lost, but the film feels like something Campbell would write.

It’s a good, grisly film. Police recover a girl’s body from a hole in the ground. She’s been there for weeks, burnt beyond recognition. A deformed leg identifies her as Angela Gifford. The little girl’s face is lipless, toothless, and puffy. There’s a scene where the parents identify the body, and it’s heartbreaking.

Five years later, the parents are divorced, and Claudia’s trying to get on with her life. Hooked on pills, she watches videos of her daughter and spouse (a tired cliché) over and over. Then she gets a phone call.

“Mama, mama. Come get me.”

Claudia gets help from an ex-cop who investigated her daughter’s death. Soon, they run into a cult, the Nameless, a group of researchers who want to synthesize the essence of evil past a state of moral consideration. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in the movie, either.

Directed by Jaume Balaguero (why are all the stylish horror directors Spanish, Mexican or Japanese right now?), the film is atmospheric. It takes a lot from Se7en, with the gritty/ugly crime scenes and the pitch-blackness of the shadows (which lack the compositional depth of Se7en). Sometimes, Balaguero is cheesy — sound FX with things popping out of frame that turn out to be nightmares, and dumb transitions between scenes.

But it’s the lack of character that sinks the film. Campbell’s strength is in crafting the most unlikely characters by giving us insight into their psychological makeup. But they belong to novels, where they’re understood. Here, we get no insight. We have no character, and impact is lost. Sympathy and believability are gone. Scenes that could have worked (that do on the printed page) are rehearsals for bigger ones — puppets without strings.

Take the sequence where Claudia visits Santini, the head of the Nameless. Imprisoned for raping and mutilating two kids, he’s a disturbed and disturbing guy. He survived Dachau, saying he gained more from his captors than they did. Awful stuff, but it doesn’t move. There’s nothing real about him. He’s a prop in the game of the film, so he doesn’t scare us.

The Nameless is tricky, because the first forty-five minutes are good. The story is intriguing, and we think we’re gonna see something cool. But we climb those stairs without a solid foundation. When the final twist comes, it has no impact. There’s no prep for it. The Nameless never really graduates from “kinda creepy.”

1The best of the kids-in-peril books is The One Safe Place. The best of the supernatural books is The Doll Who Ate His Mother.

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