Film of the book: ‘The Monk’ (2011)

We have a new candidate for ‘worst movie adaptation of a book’: Le moine, a French film directed by Dominik Moll. The DVD had been on my shelf for years, pending my re-read of Matthew Lewis’ fabulously shocking gothic novel. It was definitely not worth waiting for.

The film claims to be based on the novel. This is a very weak claim indeed. A few elements of the book have been cobbled together into a dull experience with zero shock factor, awful dialogue and no hint of the horror movie suggested by the DVD cover (different to the film poster, which shows only a portrait of the monk). The actors’ performances are good, most notably Vincent Cassel as the monk Ambrosio, but that’s the only positive thing I can think of.

Clearly the film makers were afraid of offending people. You never see demons or Satan. You never see inside crypts or tombs. Agnes – reduced to a very minor character, while her lover Raymond is cut out of the story – is never rescued (suggesting that she deserved her fate) while Antonia is conversely given a happy ending. There are no repercussions for the nuns’ evil actions. Even the fate of Ambrosio is treated with kid gloves. When the film concluded, I couldn’t believe how bad it was. Conceivably if you had no knowledge of the novel, you might appreciate the film as an exploration of a monk’s moral downfall, but I doubt it. The film is rated 15, as it includes nudity. Take away that and there’s nothing edgy about it at all. The one scary element is the mask which Valerio (Rosario in the book) wears. In the book, the novice keeps his hood down and no one notices he’s female. In the film, the solution is that he was disfigured in a fire, so has to wear a creepy mask all the time. Just one of many poor decisions by the film makers. The special effects, such as they are, appear low-budget and there is a dependence on the ‘iris shot’ in opening or closing scenes.

In summary, read the book and don’t watch the film.

The Monk film poster

Image attribution:, Fair use,

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