surreal

Saint Bernard (2013)

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Bernard has loved music his entire life. He grows up to be a composer. On the surface he has achieved his dream, but Bernard’s reality unravels right along with his mind.

In 2013, special effects master Gabriel Bartalos released a film he wrote and directed that was his second feature film, Saint Bernard. The film flew under the radar for most horror fans. Now, six years later, Severin is finally bringing it to blu-ray. The film focuses on Bernard, a composer who loses his mind as he turns to drugs and alcohol for comfort. While that plot sounds simple enough, it is shown in quite a unique way, primarily relying on visual metaphors. The film is very unique and strange in a way that almost makes it difficult to review.

From the very first frame, many viewers will likely wonder what the hell they are watching. It only gets more bizarre from that point on. There is a lot of commentary through the visual metaphors. The film touches issues such as drugs and alcohol addiction, religion, capitalism, childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, and much much more. Bartalos takes on a very surrealist approach to his film. It almost takes on the appearance of a Salvador Dali painting. There is a heavy reliance on imagery over substance from start to finish. Normally this would be an issue for me, but somehow it works very well in Saint Bernard. Many of the various elements seem random, but there is still a story hidden behind all of the strange and spectacular imagery.

With Bartalos’s background in special effects, it’s no wonder his film relies so heavily on different types of effects of set design. The film utilizes a mix of multiple different mediums. There are prosthetics, puppets, creatures, disturbing props, and CGI. All of these elements lend to the surrealistic appearance of the film and they are all beautifully done. One of the most memorable effect used is a Saint Bernard head. As the film goes on the head decays more and more. It is rather disgusting, but very well done. The sets are sometimes even more elaborate than the effects ranging from rotting buses, wood junkyards, and an outrageous police station. The effects and sets lend a tactile element to the film. You can almost feel the wood grains, the salted woods, and the rotting goo through the screen.

There are an odd range of performances in Saint Bernard. In one of his few leading roles, Jason Dugre (Moonbeams) plays Bernard. It is fascinating to watch Bernard as we see the world through his eyes. What is even more fascinating to to see Dugre convey Bernard’s shock, dismay, and confusion at the world around him while everyone else acts as though the world is as it should be. While it is a smaller role, I was thrilled to see Warwick Davis (Willow, Leprechaun) as Othello. He was the main draw for me when the film was brought to my attention, and he does not disappoint. As a whole, the cast is weird and wild in a way that fits perfectly with the tone of the film.

Saint Bernard is a weird fever dream that relies more on imagery over content, yet it works so well. If audiences are able to follow the outlandish metaphorical visuals, then there is still a complete story to be told in the film. While the performances are entertaining, the true star of the film is the fantastic effects and stunning set design. It is truly like watching a work of art. There is no doubt this film will polar audiences, but I highly recommend everyone watch it at least once just for the experience.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Saint Bernard is available for purchase here.