In an era of one Netflix production after another, “The Binding” is, well, just another. Nothing about director Domenico Emanuele de Feudis’ Netflix debut screams extraordinary. Instead, “The Binding” is just more of the same old generic horror flick — dash any hope for originality.
Emma (Mía Maestro), a high-powered careerist, is walking away from a divorce when she meets Francesco (Riccardo Scamarcio). The movie opens with the both of them, plus Emma’s daughter Sofia (Giulia Patrignani), driving to Francesco’s family home where they plan to clue in Francesco’s devout mother Teresa (Mariella Lo Sardo) to their relationship. They sputter from paved highway to dirt road in a just-out-of-style Volvo, a nod to the crisis of modernity to come.
De Feudis lines up the dots in a ho-hum style: The Volvo passes through a disquieting tree-dotted plateau, which eventually opens into a yawning canyon. An isolated Italian summer home brings a unique twist to the typical horror setting. De Feudis tosses in the classic pan from the car turning into the driveway to the looming, lonely country home. Like in every other scary movie, however, the family’s maid peers down at the arriving victims from a small upstairs window.
The trio is the only allusion to metropolity in the rustic Italian estate. Soon after they arrive, Italian summer — the film’s brightest flair of ingenuity, which is efficiently scrapped like every other inkling of wit — quickly lends itself to nightmare. Despite its potential for dread, “The Binding” forgets to incorporate any sort of scare factor, with just one notable jump scare in the entire film.
In the plot, Francesco clearly has a well-kept past deliberately hidden from Emma, and one might wonder if de Feudis is borrowing direction from Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” Stylistically, an apt choice to throw viewers off the plot’s scent, but left behind as de Feudis adheres to normalcy. Nobody is forthright with Emma, and it’s not clear how Sofia factors in until it’s nearly too late.
A conspiracy is afoot (one that neither viewers nor Emma and Sofia are privy to), and the lambs are ready for slaughter. Emma’s instincts are momentarily on the right track, shaping up to be a welcome reprieve from the meek horror protagonist, but are hastily dumped in the gutter like every other brief digression to originality.
If it could not be any clearer, “average” seems to be the key word for the film’s story. Emma and Teresa — two different generations — collide, with Francesco trapped between his traditional roots and modern life. An all too common horror trope, modernity grinds against tradition: modern medicine versus herbal medicine, Emma’s instinct versus Teresa’s generational knowledge. In essence, ingredients of every other family-centered horror are blended with a taste of Southern Italy. Emma’s distrust for Teresa rapidly grows, abates and later flourishes, throwing everyone into chaos.
De Feudis tries to capitalize on generational differences to drive the rest of the film, though his efforts run out of steam by the time Emma flip-flops for the third time. The fleeting twists and attempts to inject zest prove futile; once it becomes apparent, any such experiments are shot down before they have the chance to mature.
No more original, “The Binding” is as much a jab at overprotective parents — who put more faith in their child’s word than a school teacher’s — as it is horror. Emma turns to reckless panic, reverting to her uninformed instincts and, quite literally, locking Teresa’s expertise out when the situation becomes dire.
Emma becomes the image of the reactionary mother — all in all, not a flattering picture, for Emma, a professional in her field, or de Feudis. De Feudis pointedly contrasts Emma with Francesco, playing into antiquated stereotypes of feminine distress and masculine reservation. Like his lack of creativity in the film’s story, de Feudis forgets to question his characters’ roles.
While Emma exists to toy with the idea of shooting the family in the foot, banality truly is the downfall of “The Binding.” An ill-guided ending leaves one thinking not about a cliffhanger, but about what producer greenlighted such mediocrity.