Mr. Movie

'Never Let Me Go' features subtle horror

Warning: Normally I don’t do this, but the plot specifics of the film has to be discussed so there are spoilers in the review. Sorry.

Horror has two faces. There’s chop-and-slash gorefests such as Saw 3D. It opens this weekend. Though they didn’t give Northwest critics an advance showing of the latest link in the — pun definitely intended — chain "Saw,” the extra dimension isn’t likely to add much to the premise other than maybe a more detailed look at the carnage.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Unless you like blood and guts, few of this kind of flick have been all that compelling. Those that don’t, find horror much more effective when it’s subtle.

Never Let Me Go opens with children living at a special school. They’re lively, fun and spontaneous just like normal children. At first you think they might be orphans. In a way, that is correct. Something isn’t quite right about the children, the teachers or their school.

There’s a deadness. A negative that ought not to be present with children so young and so vulnerable. An ugly truth soon emerges. The children are clones created to provide spare body parts for their originals.

They have no power. No possibilities. No future. All face death at a young age. Whew. Not 30 minutes into Never Let Me Go and the sense of death is palpable.

The three main characters are Cathy, Ruth and Tommy. A love triangle blooms that carries over into their adult lives. Of course, love for a clone bred for the purpose of extending the life of its original is doomed. Yet, like all young people, they hope. And dream.

Carry Mulligan ( An Education) and Keira Knightley play the best friends and rivals vying for the affection of beloved misfit Tommy. He’s done by The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield. All three give exceptional performances.

Life at the school is made more interesting and horrifying by a cold, emotionless, matter of fact performance from the great Charlotte Rampling.

Director Mark Romanek ( One Hour Photo) and writer Alex Garland’s ( 28 Days Later) base the movie on Kazuo Ishiguro’s popular sci-fi novel. The power of Romanek’s interpretation of Ishiguro’s book is found in long, uneasy silences. Desperation is quiet. Ultimate. Final. As powerful as any scream.

While death awaits, terms are sanitized. They’re not clones. They’re donors. And it’s not death. The correct term is completion.

Most directors could not resist the temptation to go deeper and have a more open discussion of the morality of cloning. The strength of Never Let Me Go is that it doesn’t.

What you see is what you get. Romanek — however — does not let you off the hook easy. The young people clutch at one drastic straw that could save them. It’s tied to a chilling and horrifying revelation toward the film’s climax. It is something that will stick with you. Gnaw at you. Something you will never be able to let go.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated R for mature themes, brief nudity. It opens Friday, Oct. 29 at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.