Lorenzo Bianchini's debut feature The Square Root of Three (2001) is a little yet spectacular and spooky film spoken in the Friulian dialect from northeastern Italy. The film's unique location gave it some prominence and I was glad to have stumbled across this film a few years ago. Square Root is also the most impressive shot-on-video horror debut that I have seen since Takashi Shimizu's orginal Ju-on (2000). Like Ju-on, Square Root handles its budgetary limitations very well, as talented Bianchini had many tools with which to work. The Square Root of Three is about three students, Max (Massimiliano Pividore), Nico (Alex Nazzi), and Asma (Tomas Marcuzzi), who are at risk of flunking. Deciding that they have nothing to lose, the trio decides to break into school after hours, redo their exams, and pop out quietly. After a successful break-in, Max and Nico lose Asma somewhere in the school. Unable to complete their task, the duo leaves before the janitor catches them in the act. The following day at school, Asma doesn't appear nor did he go home. The computer password that Max found isn't an access to the school database for grade entry, rather it's an access to a cryptic group of emails, from teacher to teacher. Realizing that something's amiss and seriously creepy, Max and Nico search for Asma and return for a final (?) evening trip to the school. Square Root's plot is quite simple, but Bianchini's execution is quite unique and creative. The film begins with a frame narrative, introducing detectives who are scouring the school looking for clues to the missing students. The storyline actually involving the trio flows from that one. Bianchini is able to heighten the suspense and manipulate the creepiness of the students' story with the set-ups and plot points from the frame narrative. Ruggero Deodato is a master of this technique as shown in his notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980). One of the best scenes involves a detective's trip to a Catholic Church to ask some inquiry questions. The film lingers in the church after the detective leaves to allow the viewer into the confessional, where the priest hears a sinister confession.Also, Bianchini is able to take what would be repetitive shots of Max and Nico running around the same halls, shooting in tunnels of a modern university, and transform the shots, by manipulating the lights, shadows, and colors (with an effective use of red), into modern-looking catacombs. Likewise, through Nico's character, who is always blacking out and waking up from bizarre dreams, Bianchini plays with the time and space elements of the duo's journey. The two are asking each other, "Was there a door there before?" or "How did my flashlight get here?" The central mystery involves the existence of a Satanic cult at the school, and Bianchini sets up the story so the viewer is asking whether Max and Nico are flipping out or is the cult effing around with their surroundings? The Satanic imagery is rarely used and its rare use has quite an impact when shown.
The Square Root of Three shows what a talented and creative person can do with a low-budget film. While Bianchini is never able to hide the low-budget roots in Square Root, he doesn't need to--the simple story is totally loaded and for a hundred minutes or so, I was both intrigued and thrilled (and jumped a few times, too). Even more impressive, Bianchini would top the success of Square Root with his next low-budget horror film, Keepers of the Beast (2006).