Reviewed by Andy
Federico Zampaglione’s return to Frightfest after 2009’s Shadow, Tulpa is a love letter to giallo in its truest sense, though its celebration of the genre’s flaws as well as its strengths run the risk of being levelled against the film. The story follows Lisa (Claudia Gerini), who relaxes from her high-pressure job in the mysterious Club Tulpa and the arms of a string of anonymous lovers there. But when they start getting murdered in increasingly nasty ways and with Lisa as the primary connection, she’s caught between fear for her life and the professional scandal that would ensue if she sought police help.
The Tibetan concept of Tulpa is an intriguing one – roughly, it is a physical being created from the imagination and the term originated from a claim by a Belgian-French explorer of Tibet that they had created such a being (in the form of a Friar-Tuck-a-like monk) that had to be destroyed after developing a life of its own. This gives a good hook for the mystery aspect of the giallo, and the striking figure of Nuot Arquint (Mortis in Shadow) is nicely effective as the club owner. Mind you, his dialogue delivery is more reminiscent of a different mystery man – that of the Half Life game series – and it’s here that the less positive aspects of the genre start to become evident. Many gialli at their peak were post-dubbed or badly subtitled and that feel is present here, along with the poor dialogue that was associated; even Argento and Bava’s finest thrillers weren’t known for strength of dialogue and acting. While you can never be quite sure if this was intentional, that the writing appears much stronger in the film’s first half does start to indicate it could have been. The worst offender by far is Lisa’s friend Joanna who appears like she hadn’t seen the script before reading it phonetically with it being in a language she had never spoken before, but that does give comedy gold at points.
Traditional gialli have been known for their style too, and the visuals and sound are fantastic here. The deaths are suitably elaborate and visceral, and all of the twists tie up nicely consistently.
It’s to Zampaglione’s credit that he has embraced all aspects of giallo, but ultimately Tulpa will be divisive as a result. One thing that is likely to be less factious is that it’s a striking experience, irrelevant of whether the entertainment comes intentionally. ***