The Well (2023) Review

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Eleven years after his last genre feature, Tulpa: Demon of Desire (Tulpa: Perdizioni Mortali), Italian filmmaker Federico Zampaglione once again steps into the darkness. This time we find ourselves in a Euro-Gothic nightmare centered around a mysterious painting hung in an elaborate, centuries-old villa nestled near a quaint Italian village. A painting that has been so severely damaged by fire that its entire canvas has turned black with soot.

Enter Lisa Gray [Lauren LaVera; Terrifier 2 (2022)], daughter of a renown art restorer and a skilled hand at restoration in her own right. Coming all the way from the United States to bring the artwork back from the brink of destruction, Lisa quickly finds herself working under pressure as her employer (and Duchess of the villa), Emma [Claudia Gerini; John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)], needs the restoration to be complete for a very important and swiftly approaching event.

Lauren LaVera

As more and more of the demonic painting is revealed, Lisa’s feelings of unease and alarm go through the roof. Are the bumps in the night and Lisa’s disturbingly vivid nightmares just a product of her stressed out imagination? Is there any grain of truth to the crazy stories the Duchess’ daughter, Giulia [Linda Zampaglione], has been spouting? What happened to those other American travelers she met on the bus bound for the out of the way village?

The Well could turn out to be a polarizing entry in LaVera’s resumé. Fans of Terrifier 2 aren’t going to find the over-the-top splatteriffic insanity from her previous genre romp. Nor does she showcase much of the badassery we all cheered for in her fights with Art the Clown. The Well is a much more by-the-numbers Gothic-esque affair where the truth is slowly revealed both figuratively and literally as the damaged painting is carefully scrubbed clean.

Claudia Gerini

Dialog in The Well is sometimes awkward — for example, when Lisa meets the other American travelers on the bus into town — which might be by design given that they were all strangers who just happened to share a common language in a foreign land, but at other times the lines just feel stiff. From what I can tell, this is Zampaglione’s second English language screenplay (the first being Shadow (2009)) so maybe that has something to do with it.

Obviously, with the film being shot in Rome, any scenes showing off the Italian countryside, the local “village,” or the wonderful Italian villa are absolutely gorgeous. Not to mention the interior scenes within the villa itself. It all looks lush and luxurious, well appointed and classically beautiful. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of the in-studio sets which, due to either construction or lighting (or both?), tend to give off a “soap opera” vibe. To be honest, while watching the first scene with the eponymous Well, I was worried it wouldn’t survive the action sequence. Luckily, it’s sturdier than it looks.

However, if you can look past all that, Lauren LaVera and Claudia Gerini do a great job with what they’re given. The two women work well together and elevate the film whenever they get to play off each other. The Well also holds to the long tradition of Italian horror and its love of practical effects. Sprinkled generously throughout the second and third acts, they’re fun to see and earned the movie an extra half-star. Most notably the horrific gardening claw vs. eyeball incident. Kudos to special make-up effects wizard Carlo Diamantini for that extra bit of nightmare fuel.

Fans of Italian supernatural horror will likely be pleased while those anxious for a another female-fronted orgy of gore will either have to wait for Terrifier 3 or get their drink from a different, um, well.

The Well made its World Premiere at the Sitges Film Festival before heading to Los Angeles for its North American premiere at Screamfest LA on October 12.

Review by Robert Zilbauer.

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