Hannibal Rising is Thrilling, Intellectual, and Definitely Not a Slasher

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.

Gaspard Ulliel as the sinister good doctor Hannibal in a scene from Hannibal Rising.

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.

Last Word:
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.

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Interesting to see how much you liked the movie. I personally hated it. I didn't like Gaspard Ulliel, the movie was more a revenge thriller then a psychological thriller like the other ones, and the so-called "back story" wasn't all that interesting, because as far as we know, Thomas Harris just made it up now. He just made the book now, so it makes me wonder if he had these thoughts prior to writing Silence of the Lambs. It wasn't very intellectual, the script made me feel like I was an idiot. Like when he is shot in the back and they show the sword... like we didn't know the sword was there, and of course he didn't die. Anyways, I guess people will have thier own opinions.

Jeff on Feb 11, 2007


Hey Jeff - nice to hear from you! Here's my disclaimer - I haven't really seen any of the other Hannibal movies. I think your opinion of this is vastly different if you've even seen or are at all fans of any of the other Hannibal movies. I haven't seen any of them and was just really drawn into this. And why I like Gaspard so much was because I didn't have an Anthony Hopkins' Lecter to base my knowledge on and therefore loved his really dark and sadistic depiction. But I think I am the only one giving it a high rating. Anyone else I've talked to, even fellow critics and other site owners, have really disliked it. I don't know why, I thought on its own it was pretty good. Not fantastic by any means, but still very good.

Alex Billington on Feb 12, 2007


I guess that makes sense. I just watched Silence of the Lambs for the first time last Friday, so Anthony Hopkins was fresh in my mind. I think that Hannibal Rising would have worked better had it not been related to the series, but more of a "thriller" all its own.

Jeff on Feb 12, 2007


I'm definitely with Jeff on this one. I think that if you're going to create a backstory to a character who has already been established, you have explain everything that makes the character who he becomes. Hannibal Rising was, at best, an average revenge movie. The only way that you know he's going to become a monster is that several characters keep referring to him as a monster. I understand that the way he dispatches people is rather monstorous, but there is never a single event or a point in the film where Hannibal completely snaps and you can see that he is going down the path to become the monster who has captivated all of us for many years. The best comparison I can make is to the prequel Star Wars trilogy. My biggest beef with the films really is that there is never a believable point in the trilogy you can point to and say, "Yup, he's going to be the badass Sith Lord that chokes people for talking back to him." All you see is the same whiny b!tch that you see in Luke in the OT that cries "But I was going in to Tashi station to get power converters!". Had Lucas found a convincing way to set Anakin on the path to become Vader, I would have put aside the problems I had with the acting, directing, Jar Jar and the rest of the "CGI Porn" because Lucas would have set up a truly sad character of Shaksepearean proportions over this six-film series. I really feel the same way in the cases of both stories.

Dave on Feb 12, 2007


I thought Hannibal Rising was fine for what it was, a B movie with a few too many subplots. I didn't think it develops the Lecter character any further, though. The psychology of his actions may have worked for this film, but it doesn't absolutely fit the character as he's described in his later years. And in a prequel, it kind of needs to fit the model already in place. Otherwise, why bother calling him Hannibal Lecter? Why not just create some new bloodthirsty anti-hero who went on a vengeance kick against the Nazis? That part of the story actually works pretty well. But the whole Lady Murasaki thing was terrible and a lot of the dialogue scraped the bottom of the barrel. If you enjoyed the film on its own, I can see that. There were parts of it I liked more than I would have anticipated. But unfortunately, the film is in a series, and as a continuation of a story about a particular character it has to fit in that universe, too, and Hannibal Rising doesn't.

Colin Boyd on Feb 14, 2007


A B movie? No way, the production value alone may make it more like an independent movie, but definitely not a B movie. I do think it had some issues (as you stated), but I would not at all call it a B movie... Peter Webber is amazing with his production, it's just some other areas that needed tightening.

Alex Billington on Feb 14, 2007


It's a B movie in that you've got a cannibal taking samurai lessons in France. The story is incredibly campy and again, that dialogue is tough sledding. It's actually why I liked Rhys Ifans's histrionic performance so much: He gets that it's a B movie. And I would've liked it more had it been more consistently a B movie instead of trying to take itself seriously. Hey, no offense to B movies. Some great films fall in that category. Touch of Evil is number 79 on imdb's top 250 list, and Pulp Fiction is number 8, and they're both B movies in the classic sense.

Colin Boyd on Feb 14, 2007

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