Take your seats for the next performance of Eugenio Mira’s preposterous but breathlessly entertaining thriller, Grand Piano (2013). It’s a genre piece packed with the kind of knowing Hitchcockian thrills peddled by Mira’s fellow Spanish contemporaries like Guillem Morales (Julia’s Eyes) and J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage), but the USP here is the additional Speed-like high concept device, transposed to a more sedate setting while still delivering on the excitement. The eternally pixie-like Elijah Wood takes the lead as Tom Selznick, a young pianist virtuoso preparing for his big return to the limelight and a chance to tackle his demons after developing a disastrous bout of stage fright just five years earlier.
Spurred on his supportive singer wife (Kerry Bishé) Selznick appears to be on top of things until he spots a scrawled note within his piano book. With a sniper’s beam trained straight at him, he is told by a mysterious would-be assassin (John Cusack) if he fluffs one note during the entire performance, he will die. You know exactly where you’re at with Grand Piano as soon as the thundering, Saul Bass-inspired opening credits present themselves. There’s a promise of old-fashioned thrills to come, and for the most part, that’s what the audience get. It’s a technically adept film and it’s all played out against a lush, velvety theatrical colour palette that wouldn’t look out of place in a giallo. Interestingly, the blood-letting is hinted at rather than exposed, with dynamic edits used to nurture a sense of horror within the audience’s mind.
The orchestral score within the film works wonders in both informing the action and synchronising with the suspense, and the actors bring a committed straight-faced approach to the premise, embracing the inherent ridiculousness of it all, even when it occasionally threatens to be Grand Piano’s undoing. Much like the role of Kiefer Sutherland in 2002’s Phonebooth, Cusack takes a hammy relish in delivering his voice-over work, although his inclusion in the film immediately eliminates any element of mystery around his character. Wood does an admirably job of holding things together and it’s nice to see Bill S. Preston, Esq. Himself, Alex Winter, cropping up in a meaty role as a helpful member of stage security who may not appear to be all he seems. Ultimately, Grand Piano may be little more than a good-looking B-movie, but it’s done with skill, creativity and a shrewd understanding of the genre, meaning it deserves at least one encore, if not a standing ovation.