Chris Kirby’s review published on Letterboxd:
A slow burn that heaps on the mystery until shit just gets weird!
A really good Giallo that does one of the best jobs, that I've seen so far, in building a mythology that drags us down the rabbit hole. One thing to note is how we aren't witnessing a murderer rampage through the city, it's pure mystery done right.
The story follows Stefano as he comes to a secluded village to restore a painting inside the local church. The painting was done by the late, great Legnani, a local artist known as The Painter of Agony. As he works on restoring the mural, Stefano begins to get threatening phone calls, people start turning up dead, and the history of Legnani begins to seep up to the surface as the mural in the church begins to reveal more than it first appeared. The film is all atmosphere as it slowly unfolds itself.
Peppered throughout we get a real look at Stefano's life in the village. It's not all about the mystery. His encounters with the local residents, conversations about things both pertaining to the overall mystery and not, a blossoming romance, and a slight mental degradation over time. It's often in these quiet moments that the film really shines. His dinner with Francesca is beautiful in how it is framed and we see them having a discussion but hear only the film's beautiful score.
There are also moments here that are pure art. The opening sequence stands out the most. During the opening my initial thought was, "Criterion when?" The scenes where Stefano finds, and later investigates, Legnani's old house are simply sublime. There's always the sense of foreboding that has us anticipating the snap, but it doesn't come. The film pulls and prods us the whole time without ever letting loose. It is a slow burn but ultimately largely effective in the grand scheme. That doesn't mean it's always engaging though. The slow burn started to wear on me about 2/3s through the movie. It's just so deliberate in its pacing that I started to fade away.
But then it comes right back around for a truly bizarre final act. Everything is called into question, there's a shocking scene involving rape, then it just spirals into lunacy. It's great! The way the plot unfolds is so brilliant in giving us just what it wants us to have but never enough to where we anticipate the ending. However, it never betrays itself with its twists and turns. The pieces all fit, you just have to wait until the end.
Man I wish this DVD wasn't 11 years old, out of print, and $50 online. Sure I found the film to slog in parts but this is a rewatch type of film. It's enjoyable the first time but will almost certainly increase in enjoyment upon later viewings. It's a great concept to play with and has so many scenes and shots that blatantly tell us that we're watching a great film. It's not an over the top grotesquery that shocks us with its violence and pounds us with horror, it's totally art-house horror that still delivers the goods.