“The Binding (Il Legame)” is an Italian horror tale that doesn’t play by the rules, that defies every expectation it sets us up for.
Does that heighten the frights or amp up the suspense? Not really. But it’s a puzzling bit of cinematic horror bait and switch that could hold your interest.
A couple (Argentine actress Mia Maestro and Italian star Riccardo Scamarcio) travel to the South of Italy to visit his mother. Emma and Francesco are about to marry, and her pre-teen daughter from an earlier marriage, Sofia (Giulia Patrignani) is along for the ride to a remote villa where weird things are afoot.
Francesco’s mother Teresa (Mariella Lo Sardo) is no Mother Teresa. She’s all about incantations, herbal remedies and weird ceremonies. We can see that because we saw the prologue where a young woman was held down and cut in some blood ritual.
Emma starts picking up on it from the strange whispers in the house, the oddly nosy folks who visit for a group meal welcoming Francesco back, all ready for her “to become part of this world, and this family.”
Sofia sees ancient, overturned trees, hears Teresa’s claims of a magical ability to heal those trees, and screams in the night at what’s under her bed. A spider, for starters.
One bite later and Sofia’s in peril, her mother picks up on it even as Francesco and everybody else tell her “You’re over-reacting” (in Italian, with English subtitles). She isn’t.
But what we’ve been set up for, some ritualistic Southern Italian cult taking possession of the child, isn’t what’s going on. The villains aren’t necessarily the ones we finger. And the story stumbles toward a resolution that doesn’t seem to fit the facts we’ve been immersed in.
Everything, including the doctor in town who treats the bite (after Teresa’s application of herbs), seems to be “in on it,” this “binding” (evil eye curse) thing.
Emma’s rising paranoia and determination to get her kid out of there are reasonable responses, we think. But do we have all the information we need to know what’s coming?
No. We don’t.
Putting a child in jeopardy and subjecting her to horrors (with their accompanying shrieks of terror) is usually a foolproof set-up. This take on that left me cold, with a few mild frights and only a vague idea of who we should be rooting for or rooting against.
Not playing by the horror rules means “The Binding” avoids becoming “Rosemary’s Baby.” The trouble is, it doesn’t become anything else, either.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, bloody violence, sex
Cast: Mia Maestro, Riccardo Scamarcio, Mariella Lo Sardo, Giulia Patrignani, Raffaella D’Avella
Credits: Directed by Domenico Emanuele De Feudis, script by Daniele Cosci, Davide Orsini and Domenico Emanuele De Feudis. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33