Grand Piano is a masterful thriller from director Eugenio Mira who channels his inner Hitchcock with a nerve shattering tale of man who quite literally has to play the concert of his life. Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, the most gifted pianist of his generation who gave up on performing due to his stage fright. Five years after a catastrophic performance, Selznick makes his long-awaited return in front of a packed theater. But only moments before his comeback performance, he discovers a note written on his music sheet: “Play one wrong note and you die.” Truly a setup that the Master of Suspense himself would appreciate.
The film starts off simple enough as Selznick makes his highly anticipated return behind the piano with a tribute concert to his recently passed teacher. After a few deep breathes Selznick begins to play, hitting the first deadly note in a concert that will test not only his skills as a pianist, but his will to survive. Once the playing begins, director Eugenio Mira unravels a gripping story that moves a breakneck pace, only slowing down when it counts the most.
There’s so much to like about Grand Piano, but one of my favorite elements of the film that sets itself apart from anything else in the genre is the way that it infuses Victor Reyes’ score with Selznick’s playing, incorporating original pieces with intense arrangements by Beethoven and others. The way Mira blends the score with the intensity on screen as Selznick plays at a furious pace is absolutely brilliant, bringing this one to life in such a powerfully magnetic way that you might find yourself wanting to listen to classical music when all is said and done—just as long as no one is pointing a gun at your head.
But it’s so much more than just a thriller with an inventive score. Mira may not be a household name, nor has he directed very many features, but he is without a doubt a master at his craft as he demonstrates just the kind of power that a director truly has over a film. Most of the film is shot in real time on a stage, so Mira had to be creative with the camera in order to create the kind of tension that the film needs. He did this by delivering some clever shots of the stage that would be tilted at a crazy angle, or spin around Selznick as he played. These unsettling shots coupled with blood red lighting in the background gives this film an Argento-like feel to it, turning this one into a class of its own. Mira doesn’t stop there though as he magnificently drops in a scene with one of the coolest split screen shots that I have ever seen. It’s something you just don’t see very often in cinema these days, which made me appreciate Mira’s thriller that much more.
And beyond its brilliant direction and stunning score, the film is rooted in two fantastic performances from both Elijah Wood and John Cusack, who’s malevolent voice taunts Selznick from beginning to end. Cusack makes a fun villain who, throughout most of the film, is hidden in the shadows with nothing but a red dot to remind us of his presence. Wood, however, is the one who truly shines here as if that would surprise anyone. Luckily for us horror fans, Wood found a comfortable place in the genre where he continues to turn out quality work with Grand Piano being just another incredible notch in the belt.
Even when the film finally winds down, Mira leaves us with one final note, a note that will leave you wanting more as the credits begin to roll. Grand Piano is, in one word, masterful. Mira displays amazing skill behind the camera with a tale of pure thrills that grabs you by the throat only to let go when the final key has been struck.