This tale of madness, lust and grisly murder, set in the Malaysian jungle in 1924, is so unremittingly grim that it threatens to become unintentionally comic. Directed and co-written by Kristian Levring — who was responsible for the equally overwrought The King Is Alive — the film is evocatively shot (in digital video), heroically acted and fatally sunk by a preposterous script.
The heart of darkness here is an ivory trading station, rotting in a humid nowhere and peopled by a group of repulsive grotesques. The station is run by Mrs. Jones (Brenda Fricker), a grim-visaged and tightly-wrapped holdover from the age of Victorian resolve, a widower who lords over her 35-year-old and more than a little demented son William (Tony Maudsley) and her dangerously bitter nephew Norton (Philip Jackson). Rounding out this gallery is a gloomy priest (David Bradley) and a loony with an indeterminate Eastern European accent, William’s aged nanny Erina (Olympia Dukakis, who seems to be channeling Maria Ouspenskaya).
The general queasiness increases with the arrival of a young surveyor named Hamish (JJ Feild) and his somewhat older fiancee Sarah (Janet McTeer, who also co-wrote the script). While Hamish is sent off with a group of native workers to do his arduous job (the purpose of which is never quite clear), the voluptuous Sarah stays behind where she’s aggressively ogled by the addled William. Not that rape is where this is all headed, but rather something altogether more baroque. Before that can transpire, William has a more pressing bit of business, mainly disposing of Mama who’s standing between him and the family fortune. Meanwhile, the natives are growing restless.
The Intended almost achieves the status of being a guilty pleasure — you know it’s overripe tripe, but parts of it are so nasty as to seem audacious. And the actors nearly redeem it, especially Maudsley, who manages to make a wretched, fat slob with incredibly bad teeth and an abiding rudeness seem, if not exactly sympathetic, then at least singularly pitiable. But its piling on of sweatily repulsive situations seems a miscalculation; our interest in the fate of the apparently innocent couple who have wandered into this hell’s outpost decreases as the story slips beyond melodrama into absurdity. It’s as though Levring and McTeer equated unflinching drama with a sort of high seriousness, overshot their mark, and just ended up with something kind of sleazy.
Opens July 2 at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph) Bloomfield Township. Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].