Nine years back Drew Barnhardt made his debut with MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO a well done if fairly standard slasher. Now he’s back with RONDO, a film that pretty much defies categorization. Described as “an extreme/horror thriller” and with a trailer that invokes giallo films, it’s actually neither. It’s part horror, part dark comedy, and part revenge thriller.
Paul (Luke Sorge) has a dishonorable discharge and PTSD. Unable to stay sober or hold a job he’s currently living on his sister Jill’s (Brenna Otts) couch. Wanting him to get his life in order, and hiss off her couch she sends him to Cassie (Gena Shaw), a therapist. She says he needs to widen his social circle and improve his sex life. Preferably by adding some kink to it. and hooks him up with a password for a “Rondo Party”. What he sees there will very defiantly change his life, and those of everyone around him.
Full of twists that make it hard to really talk about it without giving way to much away RONDO is a bizarre film. The extreme horror tag had me expecting something of a gorefest. There is some violence, some of it wince-inducing but it’s not overly violent as these things go. The plot is also rooted in fetish and sex parties, but there’s little nudity or sex on display. Instead, these are all worked into a thriller that is if not quite up to Hitchcock would fit in alongside early 80’s Brian De Palma, or at least one of the better DTV knockoffs of BODY DOUBLE.
The camera work as well as the plotting echo De Palma actually. For a low budget film, it has some inventive and intricate shots. A nifty, and disorienting scene involving Jill pacing in circles and another late in the film involving characters on different balconies and street-level come to mind right away. A lot of creativity went into the film’s look, almost as much as went into the plot.
I do have to take issue with the soundtrack. As music it’s not bad, often reminding me of early Nine Inch Nails. However, in some scenes it’s overpowering to the point dialogue is hard to make out. It’s an annoying slip in an otherwise well-made film.
RONDO recently had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. You can keep updated on future screenings at its website.