The Binding Review: An eerie yet cliched Italian horror
The Binding is neither unhinged nor inventive in its horror despite certain briefly fascinating elements
In an interview post the release of his unsettling Midsommar, filmmaker Ari Aster remarked how bad horror films malign the genre by evoking dismissal and cynicism towards horror dramas. Netflix’s new Italian horror, The Binding (originally titled Il Legame) directed by Domenico Emanuele de Feudis is a new addition to the heap of these run-of-the-mill horror movies.
When Francesco returns home to South Italy with his prospective bride Emma and stepdaughter Sofia, a curse looms from the dark secrets of his boyhood and follows Sofia. Emma, the mother is faced with the task of saving her daughter from sinister spirits. We have all been there and seen it, in countless horror films. The familiar premise and predictable plot aside, The Binding fails to even flesh out its characters who are mere shadows of the people we have encountered in various horror movies. We begin to doubt if the film wanted to just exploit our familiarity with these characters.
Directed by: Domenico Emanuele de Feudis
Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio Michael C. Pizzuto Federica Rosellini
Streaming on: Netflix
The Binding is neither unhinged nor inventive in its horror despite certain briefly fascinating elements. Abandoning the potentially interesting aspects of witchcraft, psychological horror and frightening mystery of cultish rituals, Feudis’ film relies entirely on jarring jump scares and haunting music. The film compulsively checks almost all the boxes in the laundry list of horror tropes: a mysterious maid, an aloof and spacious mansion situated in the heart of the woods, an innocent and curious child who becomes possessed, characters who are strange for the mere sake of it, malevolent spirits lurking under the bed, a mandatory exorcism, and terrible bores of flashbacks. By the time The Binding is done with the excruciating list, we are left tired and numb.
Motherhood is an essential theme in The Binding, albeit only superficially explored. Emma is an independent mother whose work doesn’t allow her more time with her young daughter. Teresa, Francesco’s seemingly hostile mother is in fact a loving woman who seeks to protect her son and save him from his sins. Ada is a bereaved young mother who loses her child in a strange ritual and is bound to a wicked force. But aside from a fleeting dialogue that upholds motherhood, The Binding stays distant from these emotionally charged relationships and grows consequently disengaging. A similarly fraught mother-daughter relationship was brilliantly employed to exude disturbing terror in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. With three different mothers struggling with the figurative and actual losses of their children, The Binding shrinks away from the disquieting despair and seeks its refuge in strange fits of horror.
In an absurd nightmarish sequence that turns repulsive, the possessed child prostrates before a green moist pattern in the wall and hurts herself, scratching her hands. Crawling spider’s black blood transports you to supernatural spaces in this contrived and bleak horror thriller.
The barely interesting horror drama reminds us of the genre’s need to be revived and why filmmakers like Ari Aster and Robert Eggers are crucial now. These creators continue to defy cliches, shatter the tropes and bend conventions to thrust us in the throes of terrifyingly real terror. Mati Diop’s 2019 Atlantics was a searing blend of horror, romance and political commentary. Diop’s film proved how conducive the genre is for chronicling crushing social terror. I am also thinking of Eggers’ The Witch set in the patriarchal 17th century England steeped in superstitions.
Feudis’ pulp horror, however, does not want to push the genre. As The Binding concludes on a traditional anticlimactic note, mothers may hope to be at peace for a while since it is the turn of flawed fathers now. I am glad the film didn’t deem it necessary to completely go by the rulebook and sacrifice the family’s dog, Tito. That's one relief anyway.