1275. A young girl is imprisoned in the dungeons of an abbey where an alchemist and his secret order use her for their strange experiments, repeatedly raping her and stealing the offspring she bears. But a young monk, employed as a scribe, has fallen in love with her and will try to free her at any cost, thwarting the alchemist’s plans…

2011. Two teenage lovers (and their dog!) disappear while investigating the ruins of the abbey and a mysterious, abused young woman with no memory is found wandering in the woods. Investigating the teens disappearance, the police find a centuries-old skeleton and an arcane manuscript, a book that hints at dark and terrible secrets…

Now. The police inspector in charge of the twin investigations of the teenagers’ disappearance and the young woman’s appearance, is on the run and on borrowed time, hunted by a mysterious conspiracy. Fearing for his life and scared his knowledge will go with him to the grave, he meets with a journalist, determined to go on the record with his final testimony…

Sinuously intertwining three stories over three timelines, each with a distinctive visual form and style, Francisco Erba’s striking debut feature As In Heaven, So On Earth (Come in cielo, cosi in terra) mixes found phone footage (and, at one point, dogcam) in the teenagers’ story with the haunted cop’s tale being related in a documentary-style using police bodycams and CCTV footage as well as talking heads-style interviews to give it a sense of immediacy.

But it’s the story of the alchemist and his victims set in the Middle Ages that truly dazzles, Erba employing dialogue-free stop-motion animation and puppetry to both recreate the Hell on Earth of the period and distance the audience from the horrors visited upon his protagonists as they experience rape, torture, mutilation and execution in search of hidden knowledge while remaining the most sympathetic and emotive of performances in the film.

To say too much more would spoil the delights of Erba’s fiendishly ingenious bravura vision but it’s a bold, confident metafilm that while not always successful (if you lost the horny teens in a badly lit tunnel episode, you wouldn’t miss it) is an intelligent dissection of the nature of narrative and reality that is truly unique, marking Erba as an emerging talent to watch. Just see it!   

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: As In Heaven, So On Earth
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