Fantasia 2017: The Laplace's Demon
Director Giordano Giulivi's The Laplace’s Demon opens with a team of researchers traveling to a remote island at the behest of a well-off professor, who seems interested in their work. Upon arrival, they receive word from the professor that his invitation was a ruse. Rather than look into their research, the professor intends the team to assist in his own proofing of a theorem that solves for probability in all things (and is also the source of the title—no supernatural proceedings here). To inject some immediacy to their evening, and to prove his theory correct, the professor has sent a monstrous mechanical creation to hunt them all down, one by one.
What we wind up with, here, is essentially an Italian-made, gothic suspense version of an Agatha Christie story. It’s worth saying, though, that the suspense is well maintained with smart direction and suitably creepy special effects that mimic the uncanny valley of stop motion. The gothic mood is established via architecture of the manor in which the film is set and the gauzy black and white camerawork in which it’s shot.
The research team’s trip to the island by small boat is well used to establish their different dynamics and personalities, an economical and smart choice so that upon arrival, we jump right to the tense fun.
It’s clearly a labor of love, with The Laplace’s Demon, and it comes through in every choice. Costumes and set design harken back to previous decades’ styles, but the main characters have modern technology with them. This melding of periods onscreen lends an “out of time” quality to the film, and that quality works to its benefit. It’s not a high-budget affair, but the charms shine through nonetheless. The design of the thing that hunts down the cast is at once over-the-top and fearsome, and I got flashes of Maximilian the evil robot from The Black Hole in how it’s “face” came across on screen. The Laplace’s Demon doesn’t try all that much new with the formula it cribs from Christie, but the originality and attention to detail in the smaller effects and in the “hunter” are clear, and they justify the price of admission alone if you’re into that (I was).