Hannibal Rising is Thrilling, Intellectual, and Definitely Not a Slasher
by Alex Billington
February 11, 2007
The fifth and latest offering in the Hannibal Lecter "series" jumps back in time to the beginning of Hannibal the Cannibal. Englishman Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) directs a fascinating and dark tale of Hannibal's journey into madness. Not your typical slasher flick by any means, Hannibal Rising is an intellectual tale about a soon-to-be-deranged doctor and his troubled childhood.
In Hannibal Rising, Webber tells the grisly tale of how Hannibal's (Gaspard Ulliel) family was killed and of how his sister was tragically murdered and eaten by the S.S. during World War II. During his teen years, Hannibal learns about killing and cannibalism himself. After Hannibal escapes an orphanage later as a teen, he seeks out his aunt by marriage Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). All he wants is to avenge his sister's death and to get her killers that plague his dreams every night. In the pursuit of knowledge he studies to become a doctor in France, traveling between the university and his castle in Lithuania to research who and where the killers are. This dark story dwells so much on his sadistic mind that becomes vastly demented by the end where the story eventually picks up in one of the other Hannibal films.
As Tom Tykwer's Perfume introduced us to Ben Whishaw, Hannibal Rising stars a young and unknown actor (22-year-old Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel) giving a fantastic portrayal, despite the inevitable comparisons to Anthony Hopkins. The English director Webber has a very gritty and fascinating style that becomes part of the overall experience. In every scene there is an incredible depth to every sense. The feeling in each scene is nearly tangible, again almost in the same way that Perfume nearly achieved a sense of smell in each of its scenes. Hannibal Rising is wonderfully defined visually, a particularly enjoyable feat given that those initially interested are expecting a slasher film at most.
The film's story is much more of a drama combined with thrilling elements than one of grotesque horror. There are, of course, portrayals of Hannibal's killings, but Webber has held back slightly on their gore and instead accents the drama and thrill. It's almost a film that a girlfriend (on Valentine's Day) or even those who aren't big fans of horror movies could attend, but the squeamish will turn away for a few of the more intense scenes. Hannibal becomes something to enjoy more for its drama and plot than for the horror and gore. Although Hannibal Rising was a fascinating film on the whole, the ending was a disappointment. Its progression, although lengthy at times, came to a heaving halt right as it was starting to build momentum.
Hannibal Rising is not the campy slasher film I initially expected, but it is also not the perfect masterpiece in the Hannibal series. It's a fine creation, one of the better of the films out in theaters currently in 2007, and has plenty of strong elements - including Gaspard Ulliel as Hannibal and a riveting and well-defined style. If you're up for an intellectual thriller, then Hannibal Rising is a good choice. If you open yourself up to the new feeling that Peter Webber brings to the Hannibal series, than you'll be delightfully surprised.