This latest version comes from Dominik Moll, a French director whose name has risen on the arthouse circuit in the last decade. Moll has made a number of fine works, all of which fall within genre lines. Molls name took off with the festival hit of his second film, the thriller With a Friend Like Harry/Harry, Hes Here to Help (2000) about a psychopathic childhood friend. Moll followed this with the cryptically baffling identity exchange film Lemming (2005) and subsequently the surreal comedy News from Planet Mars (2016).
Dominik Molls taking on The Monk seems a well-suited match. You would have thought that the storys focus on dark psychological matters and twisted sexual relationships would have fit Molls sensibilities like a glove. Only it doesnt. In fact, Moll appears to have made a conspicuous effort to tame the original story down. The tortured sexuality of the book is all missing there is only a single hallucinatory shot of Deborah Francois naked and that is about as sordid as it gets. Valerio/Mathilda doesnt ever seduce Father Ambrosio and there are no rape scenes. All of the monks lust seems to be something that is merely talked about and occurs off-screen. This is such a muted version of the book that there is rarely even the sense that the end the story reaches represents the complete and utter desolation of the monks soul after being tempted and driven insane by his lusts.
Instead, what we get feels like The Monk mounted as a modern costume drama. Certainly, to this extent, Dominik Moll does a fine job wheeling out the costumery and ritual of the church and staging it all with impressive cinematic flair before the widescreen camera. He adds a maximum number of cuts away to gargoyles and flying buttresses to add brooding Gothic affect. However, in crucially lacking in the tortured sexuality and guilt that fires up the book in insanely lurid ways, this is a version of The Monk that feels watered down for the Academy Award voting crowd. The perfect person for an adaptation of The Monk would surely have been Ken Russell around the point of The Devils (1971) or maybe as one of the 1970s Euro trash fests of director Jesus Franco.
Moreover, the film has scaled M.G. Lewiss plot down in scale, even though it touches bases with far more of the basics of the book than the 1990 film. The film is much more ambiguous about its fantastic elements than the book at most, the ghost of Roxane Durans dead nun and Vincent Cassel being granted a flower that helps open doors to him. This makes decided contrast to the book with its pacts to sell ones soul to the Devil and end appearances of a personification of The Devil. The end the film reaches with Vincent Cassel being taunted by a possibly diabolic Sergi Lopez in the desert and crows picking at his innards is a decidedly underwhelming variation on the books climax that had Ambrosio tossed off a cliff by The Devil to lie there as ants and eagles tear at his flesh for seven days.