A painter, John Stevenson (Romain Roll), invites pretty Italian art dealer Livia (Michelle Esclapez, ASYLUM NIGHT) into his Marseilles home to show her his collection. As they sit and converse, an unseen figure watches from behind a screen, breathing heavily all the while.

After a little flirting with one another, John suggests he would like to paint Livia. She's delighted by the request, and hastily begins changing for the pose. John stops her while she's topless and tells her he wants to paint her as she is.

Moments later we see Livia strapped to a chair, screaming through a leather gag bound around her head. A pallet is introduced, holding not only paint brushes but an assortment of nasty-looking cutting tools. One is used to cut into Livia's arm. A brush is then applied, to paint Livia's portrait in her own blood.

But who is the killer? The notorious painter/serial killer John Stevenson, or the mystery figure lurking in his house?

This is what French police captain Georges (Jeso Vial) wants to know. He's recently uncovered the painting, and forensics have confirmed it was painted only a year ago. Georges shows the painting to art dealer Oliver (Troy McFadden, KILLING TIME) who has written a book on the late Stephenson, and confirms it is the same handiwork as his earlier paintings.

Which, the cop deduces, means one of two things - Stephenson had an assistant, or it never was him killing his muses, but someone else. Oliver, concerned that his book may be factually inaccurate, agrees to help Georges delve deeper.

Their research first sends them to Thailand in search of a painter dealer called Lec (Laurent Guyon) who is said to have been familiar with Stephenson, and holds some rare pieces by the killer.

A bit of softcore sex and lesbianism later, and Oliver gets to meet with Lec. When Oliver asks Lec if he can see his paintings, he's instead spiked with drugs and passes out. The next morning, he's haunted by visions (possibly memories) of helping Lec tie a naked girl to a chair and kill her ...

But this is just the beginning of a downward spiral for Oliver as he gets closer to Lec in an effort to learn his dark secrets, and satisfy Georges' lust to know who completed Stephenson's work after his apparent suicide.

NATURE MORTE must be commended for its scope and ambition. The final third ends in London, meaning this film travels virtually half the globe to tell its stylishly shot story.

The basic premise is an intriguing one, and although the opening torture scene had me fearing this was just another low-budget HOSTEL knock-off, it's nothing of the sort. If anything, NATURE MORTE steers clear of gore (although there is blood) and favours instead nudity and decadence.

The heavy use of colour-filtered lighting keeps the visuals attractive, while the imaginative use of the camera also helps to keep the viewer from ever being bored.

Performances are good all round, with McFadden and Carole Derrien (as Lec's sultry girlfriend Blanche) taking top honours.

On the down side, the film never realised it's potential - an interesting premise gave way to too much soft sex that ultimately started to become tiresome. Some - the Redemption crowd, for instance - will be in seventh heaven come the last twenty minutes of this film, with all its leather-clad Gothic naughtiness.

I was hoping for something more.

Still, style, ambition and originality count for a lot in today's low-budget horror market - or at least they should do, when all anyone else seems to offer is mindless gore and nastiness.

This screener disc presented the film uncut in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with English 2.0 audio (the occasional foreign dialogue had forced English subtitles). Image and audio were both good.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Paul Burrows and Carole Derrien
Region All
Not Rated
Extras :
to be announced