The inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts, a Muse, a female deity who infuses man with the gift of poetry and song, began as a source of myth and legend in Greek culture, then spread to Roman culture. That Greco-Roman concept of supernatural inspiration inspired Irish poet W.B Yeats to expose the modern world to the leannán sídhe, aka “Fairy-Love,” a beautiful, vampiric female who seeks out creative souls, i.e., painters or poets, musicians or writers, to be her lover; in exchange for the artist’s devotion, the muse will bless them with artistic inspiration — as the artist spirals into a love of madness and, eventually, death.
Thrust into this supernatural vortex is the socially-awkward Adam (which returns us to the biblical story of Eve, The Garden, Adam’s first wife, and the first “muse,” if you will: Lilith), an artist with technical talents to spare, but he lacks the heart to transform into an artist of distinction. Desperate for cash (another rent increase on his cavernous studio hovel), he drives his seedy neighbor into the woods to do a drug deal (and scores $300 bucks). It’s there he hears the whispers of and meets an entrancing, silent blonde muse — who’s already killed two men fixing a flat tire near her wooded domain. And now that Adam’s laid his eyes on her, she’s latched onto his soul.
Back at the studio, where the muse now lives, Adam begins to feverishly sketch and paint images of her; his drug-dealing neighbor sees her as a “loose end.” She quickly begins dispatching those who threaten her and come between her and Adam. Even when she’s caked in blood, Adam embraces her — and cleans up after the mayhem. And he soon begins to ensnare others to “feed” her.
In the world of indie film, horror is the most popular of genres among aspiring filmmakers, since the format lends itself to be shot cost-effectively without splashy practical effects (e.g., the works of Eli Roth, such as Hostel), instead relying on light and shadows, and a slow burn of darkness and suspense. Such is this nine film and second feature film overall (the first was 1999’s The Beast; Legends of the Muse is the first to receive widespread distribution) by director John Burr.
The level of quality of this psychological, atmospheric tale — pushed beyond the limits of beauty by cinematographer Damian Horan — mesmerizes in the same way that Nicolas Roeg brought a level of class and style to the Italian Giallo genre with his 1973 masterpiece, Don’t Look Now. (If you’re familiar with Roeg’s classic editing style employed in that that film during its “sexually graphic” love-making scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, you’ll understand my comparison of this film to Roeg’s work.)
And it’s not just Burr’s eye and Horan’s lens: all of the film disciplines are at their finest the in frames of Legends of the Muse — but we must single out the performance of Elle Evans (the wife of Matthew Bellamy of, ironically, the band Muse; you may have previously seen her in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). A true standout in the acting department as The Muse, she captivates without a syllable of dialog, employing only facial expressions and body language.
This is a beautiful film and certainly not the last we’ll hear from writer and director John Burr.
Legend of the Muse is currently streaming on Amazon Prime — with other platforms to follow — courtesy of TriCoast Pictures/Rock Salt Releasing. The joint-studios also recently brought us the equally engaging horrors of The Soul Collector and Case 347, along with the Michael Polish-directed drama Nona, the Eric Roberts-starring political potboiler Lone Star Deception, and the return of Alex Cox to U.S. cinemas with Tombstone Rashomon.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.