I’m an easily distracted soul, the type of person to reach for my phone (or knitting needles) to keep my hands occupied while watching a movie. I’m quite fidgety, so I prefer having something to hold. I got the chance to watch Into the Labyrinth, and the only thing I clutched was my blanket.
Into the Labyrinth is a British-Italian production starring a phenomenal cast. The thriller revolves around the life of Samantha Andretti (played by Valentina Bellè) and her kidnapping – the movie begins with her being found and questioned by an interrogator, Dr. Green (played by Dustin Hoffman). Apparently, she has been missing for the past 15 years, and the two of them try to piece her memories together. We slowly discover that she’s been trapped in a labyrinth, and is forced to play ‘games’ in order to earn rewards, like food, water, and a bed.
Meanwhile, we see private investigator Bruno Genko (played by Toni Servillo) who is assigned to Samantha’s case; now that she’s been found, he’s determined to find the kidnapper. His story takes us into the kidnapper’s past, and into what someone calls ‘children of the dark’ – children who go missing, and are later found. The act of them seeing sunlight is like they’re reborn, but are different, marked by their time ‘in the dark’.
The two narratives run side-by-side; as we learn more about Samantha’s time in the labyrinth, Genko learns more about who her kidnapper is. We learn that Genko is dying; this may be the last case he ever solves. This leads to him taking risks to his life, and willing to pursue every single lead, no matter how dangerous it may be.
A large part of the movie is devoted to understanding the kidnapper’s psyche; his motivation for such heinous, lengthy crimes, and why he wears the head of a rabbit costume as a disguise. A succinct explanation is given – a police officer defines him as a ‘sadistic consoler’, a person who does not want to kill their victims, but to play ‘games’ with them, and to eventually get their victims to fall in love with the kidnapper. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the kidnapper forces the victims to love them, for there is no other option. That thought stuck with me, and it’s a haunting description to try and digest.
The film is in English and Italian, with Dustin Hoffman and Valentina Bellè speaking in English, while Genko’s story is told entirely in Italian. The movie blended the two languages perfectly, and the transition from one to the other felt seamless.
One interesting technique was used – that of comics. Genko discovers a small comic strip, titled ‘Bunny’, detailing the adventures of a little bunny with heart-shaped eyes. The antagonist mirrors this – you never see his face, but you see a man wearing the head of a bunny costume, and it is as haunting as you can imagine.
The comic itself has demonic undertones – if you hold a mirror in the right position on specific pages, the images created are satanic. It’s a comic that hides under an innocent exterior – a theme that comes up time and time again in this film. One character described well – when Genko goes to interview him, he talks about how no child feels safe after they’re rescued from a kidnapping; nothing will ever be the same.
What made this movie such a wonderful, suspenseful watch is the fantastic twist at the end, something I definitely did not see coming. (Warning, spoilers follow below!)
The two narratives – that of Toni Servillo solving the case, and Dustin Hoffman diving into the victim’s psyche as a profiler – comes to a tense head at the very end. The camera shifts; we see Simon Berish (played by Vinicio Marchioni), a police officer from the Missing Persons Bureau – look at Samantha and Dr. Green, except it isn’t Dustin Hoffman and Valentina Bellè. It’s a young Italian man and woman. I found myself scooting closer to the TV – who were these people? Who are Dustin Hoffman and Valentina Bellè – where are they?
Earlier, Servillo discovers the name of the kidnapper – Robin Basso, who was kidnapped as a young boy and released 3 days later. Servillo follows the trace, trying to understand Basso’s motives, and meets a priest, a man named Sebastian, but affectionately known as ‘Bunny’. Sebastian, too, was kidnapped as a child, by a man named Bunny, before he was eventually found and rescued. The children infected with darkness go beyond these two, and it’s a horrifying history to have to consider.
When the film cuts back to Hoffman and Bellè, she discovers that she isn’t safe and rescued in a hospital room. Rather, her kidnapper designed a hospital room – complete with gown, a mannequin posed outside the door as ‘security, and an IV filled with psychotropic drugs to keep her calm – inside the labyrinth.
When she confronts him, he admits the truth – that she’s not Samantha Andretti, and that she’s been here for over a year, and that this was their favorite game to play so far. She swings her cast and knocks him down, before using this as a chance to run away. She hobbles on a cast through the labyrinth and imagines him around every corner before she finally (thankfully) finds the exit, stumbling out into bright daylight, and a snowy landscape. The last shot of this scene is of her photo on a desk – the photo of Officer Vasquez, from the Missing Persons Bureau, who disappeared two days before they found Robin Basso.
The movie ends with a flashback, to when Inspector Servillo is at a bar, and Hoffman sits at the other end. The two of them have a short conversation, Servillo responds in Italian to Hoffman’s English, before he amicably gets up and leaves. This is the only time the two narratives converge; when a detective sits in front of a monster who hides his evil so well.
Yes, this twist-within-a-twist has kept me up at night – is Dustin Hoffman the original ‘Bunny’? Has he tortured and infected children, and inevitably start the ‘Bunny’ trend? Is he the one to first draw the demonic comic? His character is like the comic itself – a monstrosity that’s hidden under an innocent, helpful exterior.
Despite me being averse to horror films (I loathe jumpscares), I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat from the very beginning. Director Carrisi built a sense of intrigue, suspense, and questioning from the get-go. Samantha’s memories are painful to watch – her surviving the labyrinth, and Hoffman forcing her to relive those memories, was devastating. The switch in tones – from a quiet hospital room to the busy streets of Rome – was fascinating, as Genko dug details about the kidnapper, Samantha revealed her own traumatic experience as one of his victims.
Into the Labyrinth kept up its tonal pace throughout the film, and the surprise at the end was one I did not see coming – for me, it was akin to the twist at the end of Shutter Island. It’s something that clicked in place, even though it’s revealed at the very end – and rewatching the movie means you notice every new detail. Trust me, it’s worth the night light you’ll need by the end of it.
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