Film Review: The Complex Forms (Fantaspoa 2024)

As FANTASPOA Film Festival 2024 continues, its screenings stay true to its name. Most recently, a suspenseful fantasy from Italy, written and directed by Fabio D’Orta. THE COMPLEX FORMS is indeed complex, or, more aptly, intriguing, fascinating, strange and intricate. 

Honestly, I was captivated from beginning to end. When we think of thriller/horror Italian films, our minds may go straight to the Gialli film, but THE COMPLEX FORMS proves that we should be looking at modern Italian genre films. 

I would describe the film as “low fantasy” (for want of a more well known term), but this is far from negative. If Hollywood Science Fiction/Fantasy seems a flashy, soulless bore, and it’s worldbuilding a mess, then it is time to scale it right down. THE COMPLEX FORMS does this with precision. Scale it right down, say, to the story of a middle-aged man in a secluded Italian villa, and you have the perfect set-up for something phantasmic.

Christian Del Ben (David Richard White) is down and out and in need of money, and so he arrives at a facility that gives you thousands in exchange for renting out your body, a possession, of sorts. By who? And how? He won’t be told until he signs the contract (nor, it turns out, will they tell him after). After doing so, he stays at the facility, working assigned jobs and waiting for ‘them’. But after the first ‘client’ arrives, he devises a plan of escape with two like-minded men (Michele Venni and Cesare Bonomelli).

The ‘clients’ are some of my favourite designs of the ‘cosmic beings’ type of monster ever- also from the talents of D’orta with design and special effects. We get these Gigantic, mechanical, insectoid creatures that give us fantasy steampunk visuals: clunking and creaking mechanics; some even have whirring cogs, and others are strangely adorned in medals and jewels. With nuts-and-bolts spider legs and horrifying metal insect limbs, these are some eldritch beings that have such complete control over humans that they don’t even have to upgrade to a newer model. 

We get to see them in all their monstrous glory, but they play a less active role, which just makes the film even more fascinating. We focus on Christian Del Ben, his growing allyship, and his attempts to void his contract. All the while, the looming threat of possession hangs over it all. 

And then there is the mystery! What are these steampunk beings? How are they going to ‘possess’ the men for the allotted time they signed the contract for? Also, why? What do they want from us? All valid and intriguing questions the audience, along with the characters want answers to! 

“The cinematography is great” is a bit of a vague statement. I don’t want to just say that about this awesome movie. Most cinematography is “great”—that’s cinema. So, to highlight it in a review, I suppose a film has to be exceptional. And so, I’ll say it: The cinematography of THE COMPLEX FORMS is, well, exceptional!

THE COMPLEX FORMS could be used at film school, such are the wide range of artistically thought out shots and film style in general. With meticulously captured Mise-en-scène in every sequence, the phrase ‘every frame a painting’ comes to mind. 

The movie is mostly confined to its villa setting but grabs our attention and keeps us invested in our protagonist’s small world and singular plight. Shots of large liminal spaces feel unsettling yet oddly confined. THE COMPLEX FORMS brings beauty and strangeness to the usually mundane and keeps up the peculiar feel of the film through unique staging and fantastical play with framing and other camera techniques. 

Apart from being a fantasy-horror film, it’s also about escaping, like if a prison breakout movie were a mind-bending run from leviathans through a labyrinth, both literal and of the subconscious. And this is kind of….fun? I liked the dynamic between the three men. Even though many of the scenes revolve around waiting and planning, THE COMPLEX FORMS is a riveting watch. 

D’orta seems to have actualised his auteurist vision of THE COMPLEX FORMS, and FANTASPOA 2024 has just let audiences witness it. Its artistic film style is something to behold but still accessible to the casual genre lover- there’s substance as well as style. Have I mentioned how much I love the creature design?

” THE COMPLEX FORMS could be used at film school, such are the wide range and artistically thought out shots and film style in general. With meticulously captured Mise-en-scène in every sequence”

5 Tombstones out of 5
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Erin Grant

Erin Grant

Erin has been writing about films for Fear Forever since 2017; to say she is passionate is an understatement. You can find her in Sydney, Australia, where she lives on a steady diet of horror movies whilst perpetually being in the middle of a film degree.
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