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The Piper (2023) Review

What are the chances that two films called The Piper, both horror films involving the legend of The Pied Piper, would come out in the same year? And that both would be hard to see? While I haven’t seen the one starring Liz Hurley yet, I did get a chance to see the one written and directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen (Child Eater, Rift) and featuring the late Julian Sands (The Ghosts of Monday, Warlock) in one of his last roles.

It opens with the voice of Gustafson (Julian Sands) on the phone trying to talk Katherine out of destroying the last copy of her Concerto for Children. She tells him “It is evil, no one must ever know about it” before rushing outside to try and burn it in her fire pit. But something with glowing eyes intervenes, and she burns while the manuscript survives.

Mel (Charlotte Hope, The Theory of Everything, The Nun) is a struggling musician who was mentored by the dead woman. She also plays in Gustafson’s orchestra, and he hints that her future there, and ability to afford medical care for her daughter Zoe (Aoibhe O’Flanagan), depends on her convincing Katherine’s sister Alice (Pippa Winslow, The Rizen, In Plain Sight) to let her have that final copy. She’s unwilling, but desperate times demand desperate measures, so she breaks into her house and steals it.

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Thoroddsen gives The Piper’s first act an effectively creepy feel to it, with the opening scenes framed against an approaching thunderstorm. The scenes where Mel searches the mansion for the manuscript are bathed in red, which makes rooms full of broken mirrors even more mysterious and unnerving. He also manages to stage clichéd moments like the bird that slams into the window as she listens to a recording of the concerto to good effect.

However, as the film goes on, with Mel recreating the concerto’s missing finale, The Piper loses steam. She loses herself in visions, emerging to find music that seems to have written itself, rehearsing the concerto has strange effects on the musicians, etc. Thoroddsen does at least partially redeem the ill child cliché by having Zoe’s condition, a degenerative hearing loss, play into the plot.

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The film does rally in the final act with a wonderfully bloody scene of The Piper clawing its way out of the body of the orchestra’s slimy flautist (Philipp Christopher, Jericho Ridge, Blood Ties) in a scene reminiscent of several 80s genre films including Demons and The Sword and the Sorcerer. Sands, by the way, delivers one of the film’s best moments with his response to seeing this.

I did like the way The Piper plays out after that, with Zoe and her mother battling the creature In an unexpected but logical way. Unfortunately, it ruins much of that by adding a coda and cliché final shot. One that no amount of visual wizardry could have saved.

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The result is an extremely uneven movie that at its best becomes an exercise in style over substance, with cinematographer Daniel Katz (The Informer, House of Darkness) and composer Christopher Young (The Empty Man, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) helping to at least partially redeem the film’s thin script. Some late in the film practical gore doesn’t hurt either, and for once bad CGI helps by giving The Piper’s an even stranger appearance.

Although it falls short of its potential, The Piper manages enough atmosphere and interest to keep me entertained. It’s something to watch when you want something you can sit back and watch without having to pay much attention too.

The Piper had its premier at last year’s ScreamFest Los Angeles and has played several countries, including Germany and Spain. It will be available in Italy later this month, but there is no date for a North American release at the moment.

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