Dorian Gray (2009) – Horror Film Review

Dorian Gray (2009)Oliver Parker’s 2009 film DORIAN GRAY, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1890 novel  The Picture of Dorian Gray, has no scheduled U.S. release date, so are film fans in the U.S. missing a treat, or is this a blessing in disguise? Starring Ben Barnes as Dorian and Colin Firth as his friend and cohort Henry Wotton, the film tells the story of a young man, who inadvertently makes a pact with the devil. No matter what the devilishly handsome Dorian does, or what kind of life he leads, he will never age. Instead his portrait [which he hides in the attic] will show the true state of Dorian’s soul. I was not expecting much from this film, but curiosity got me to the cinema, and actually I’m glad it did.
The story starts with Dorian Gray inheriting the family mansion and being thrust into high society life. His friend Henry fancies himself as a real rebel, someone who drinks heavily from the cup of life without any regard for the consequences. Henry encourages Dorian to flout the rules and do as he pleases. Dorian is already balancing on the edge of temptation, when the pact is made. Realising that nothing can age him, Dorian plummets into the moral abyss, his behaviour completely out of control. He lets himself be swept into a life of debauchery, and while his outward appearance shows no sign of his secret, disgraceful life, the painting in the attic begins to decay…..
Dorian Gray is well directed, reminding me a little of the old Hammer Horror films [I should not have to tell you that this is a good thing]. The old sets and streets look really good, even though in places you can see the use of trompe l’oeil, I actually found this rather charming. The orchestral score is excellent, adding that high gloss, quality feel.
The acting is impressive. Barnes is excellent as Dorian, but the star of this film for me is Firth, who plays his character with such gusto and humour that I found him riveting.
However, Dorian Gray is not without its flaws. The main problem is that it fails to show the contrast between the good, kind man Dorian was and the selfish, arrogant, and violent man he becomes. Showing us a charity piano recital at the beginning is not really enough! Because of this lack of contrast, it makes Dorian’s mental anguish at losing himself less meaningful and made me care much less about the loss.
The scenes wherein he is spiralling into his demise, sleeping with countless women and taking an overabundance of drugs are well shot, but too plentiful. Whilst some of the audience no doubt enjoyed seeing bare breasts every two minutes, it was unnecessary, and it did come across as a little gratuitous after a while.
If you are expecting a pure horror film, Dorian Gray is not for you. It’s dark yes, but never scary. Though I did appreciate the fact that in the most violent scene there is no sound at all, not even music, reminding me of The Shining.
I’ve never read the book and this probably helped, because almost always films cannot live up to their literay sources. To summarise: glossy, entertaining, and well acted, worth a watch, but certainly not perfect.

Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) and his portrait, which ages instead of him
Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) and his portrait, which ages instead of him

DORIAN GRAY (2009) Director: Oliver Parker. Writer: Toby Finlay (Screenplay), Oscar Wilde (Novel). Cast: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Rebecca Hall, Emelia Fox, Caroline Goodall.