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Crossing Over: “EASTERN PROMISES”, The Scariest Mafia Film Ever Made

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Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, our newest column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…

While some may outwardly lament that David Cronenberg’s recent work has strayed too far from the genre in which he is most celebrated, there’s no denying that Cronenberg’s dark, disturbing edge is present in his work in some way or another. Whether it’s the intense depiction of sadomasochism in A DANGEROUS METHOD, the seedy satirical underbelly of COSMOPOLIS and MAPS TO THE STARS or the multi-layered psychosis of SPIDER, there’s nightmarish about Cronenberg’s perception of the world around him. And while A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE offers the most disturbing display of violence in Cronenberg’s recent resume, it’s comic book origins and pulp-inspired narrative alleviate the tone from outright terror, a decision that was not made with the director’s frank and horrific mob story EASTERN PROMISES.

Though on the surface EASTERN PROMISES contains some recognizable tropes, whether it be the emotionally unstable ne’er-do-well mafia son or the pair of twists seemingly ripped from the mob film playbook, Cronenberg’s Russian Mafia opus is far from conventional fare, anchored by a dark, unflinching honesty. In EASTERN PROMISES, the phrase “just business” does not exist; every cut throat, attempted murder and intimidation attempt happens on an intimate level, humanizing every character to a damn near fault. Hell, the existential and moral turmoil on display inspires more brooding and emotion than any spilled blood and taboo subject matter, and Cronenberg handles it with an unwavering eye.

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In that sense, EASTERN PROMISES comes dangerously close to fright film territory, though it’s the same blunt, straightforward approach that reels the film back into the crime genre. In fact, even the visual composition of EASTERN PROMISES feels more like a genre picture, offering a grimy stillness to every gorgeously framed shot that undercuts any chance to romanticize the story. And in that grimy stillness exists a foreboding atmosphere, as if with every moment of silence or turn-of-phrase, there is something horrible waiting around the corner to rear it’s ugly head. With EASTERN PROMISES, the film is less like THE GODFATHER as Cronenberg’s trademark paranoia drives the film closer in tone to TEN LITTLE INDIANS.

Of course, fans of the visceral side of Cronenberg’s work will find much to enjoy in EASTERN PROMISES, whether it be in the expertly shot execution scenes or a particularly stomach-churning corpse dismemberment. Yet as lovers of the film will attest, there’s nothing more brutal and intense than the bathhouse scene, in which Cronenberg crafts an undeniably grueling fight scene where every cut, punch and grasp is felt by the audience. Even the subject matter- human trafficking, infanticide, abortion, racism-  is presented in a decidedly more harsh and unforgiving context than the traditional crime drama, and some of the scenes involving Naomi Watts’ Anna in her paranoid state feel ripped out of a slasher movie.

While to call EASTERN PROMISES in its current presentation a horror film would be an egregious stretch by even the most liberal-minded horror hound, the film is as dark and disturbing as a mob movie could get, as punctuated by the uncompromising eye of David Cronenberg. With an excellent cast by his side (lead by a cold, unforgettable Viggo Mortensen) and an up-close-and-personal approach to mafia violence, EASTERN PROMISES makes sure you remember that organized crime can be far from distant contract killings and a glamorous hustle. Instead, EASTERN PROMISES puts you in the shadow of the mafia’s nastiest business, and shakes you to the bone in a way only the most effective psychological horror films could.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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