Thrilling, Killing Ghost

Central PartnershipKonstantin Khabensky plays Crime Author Anton, who finds himself a character in his own story.
There's so much rain in Karen Oganesyan's "The Ghost" (Domovoi) that you could be forgiven for thinking that Noah's Flood is about to repeat itself. And the overall atmosphere is so dark and gloomy Ч with a choice of Moscow locations that compete with each other to seem more apocalyptic Ч that fears of the final consequences of global warming may come up as well.

Actually, neither of those issues factor in to Oganesyan's second feature, which possibly takes the traditional cinematic term "film noir" a bit too literally. It's a speedily-paced psychological thriller that keeps tension up to the end and features impressive performances by its star duo cast, Konstantin Khabensky and Vladimir Mashkov.

Khabensky plays Anton, a successful writer of popular crime thrillers who's facing writer's block as he tries to churn out his latest volume. That problem, as well as a lifestyle that's distinctly nocturnal, has thrown his relationship with girlfriend Vika (played by Chulpan Khamatova, who has notched an impressive number of screen roles over the last year) into upheaval.

The opening scenes have Anton heading off for a sparely attended book-signing session. There's considerable humor throughout the film, not least when he replies to one of those asking for a (wrong) book to be signed, "I'm not Vladimir Sorokin, thank God." More threatening is the question of another customer, Mashkov's character, who asks more directly, "Have you ever killed anyone?"

As Anton's central fictional character, Domovoy, is a professional killer like the rather intimidating man in front of him, whose **klichka,** or criminal nickname turns out to be the same, it might seem a reasonable inquiry into the writer's sense of verisimilitude Ч at least until Anton watches out the window as his prospective reader kills two people just outside the shop.

From then on, the two become locked in a strange psychological bond. Caught up in the contact, Anton is strangely fascinated to learn about the world he's previously only written about from a distance. Mashkov's character seems interested to read a "real" account of his professional world, though the closing scenes reveal that there's an ulterior motive as well (one that is not perhaps entirely unpredictable).

Those final scenes also bring considerable firepower, as well as a slew of corpses, and most of the cast, which includes some attractive cameos from famous actors like Armen Dzhigarkanyan, come out of it in rather rough shape.

It's accomplished filmmaking and miles away from Oganesyan's debut, the much more contemplative "I'm Staying." He's a talent to watch, as is cinematographer Zaur Bolotaev, who mixes the predominantly dark, gray scenes with occasional, unsettling flashes of red and orange color and effective hand-held camera work.

Listen out, too, for an outstanding original soundtrack from Georgia's Nino Katamadze working with the group Insight Ч there's a remarkable synthesis between visual mood and the accompanying sound that may be partly the work of co-producer Anna Melikyan, who showed a similar touch in her directorial debut "MARS."

This combination of inspired work comes together rarely in the genre, and against the ranks of crime thrillers that hit Russia's screens with depressing frequency, "The Ghost" stands out strongly.