Hannibal Rising: A Dark Prequel Exploring Lecter's Tortured Past

Released in 2007, Hannibal Rising is a horror movie based on the book of the same name written by Thomas Harris. It is the fifth instalment in the Hannibal Lecter horror movie series and it acts as a prequel to the three successful movies Red Dragon, The Silence of The Lambs, and Hannibal.

The film focuses on Lecter's development into a serial killer who partakes in cannibalism. We see how his experiences as a child shaped his development into a charismatic, yet psychopathic murderer. Exploring Lecter's formative years gives viewers an interesting insight into his tendency to kill and eat people.

The movie stars Gaspard Ulliel in the lead role as the cold blooded killer, Hannibal Lecter. He gives an above average performance – managing to simultaneously show the charming, witty side of Lecter and the calculated, murderous element that his character is synonymous with. His bold and piercing stares work in synchrony with his deep, creepy voice to deliver a solid impression of Hannibal.

Hannibal Rising was filmed in Prague, Czech Republic and it was directed by Peter Webber. Webber's skill at creating an appropriate ambience for the entire duration of the movie shines through again. He did a great job of managing to keep the atmosphere chilling and interspersed with moments of shocking gore. The background theme remains there throughout – we are learning all about the experiences that shaped Lecter into the monster we see in the sequel movies.

Academy Award winning Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis produced the movie. De Laurentiis worked on the three previous movies in the Hannibal Lecter franchise and Hannibal Rising follows a similar production style.

The movie was released in cinemas in February 2007 and later on DVD in May 2007 and it grossed $27.6 million in North American theatres. It received a mixed response from critics and movie fans alike. Some critics deemed it an unnecessary film, whilst others regarded the performance of Ulliel as Lecter a good enough reason to watch Hannibal Rising.

The story begins in Lithuania during World War II when Lecter is eight years old. He is living at Lecter Castle with his parents and younger sister, Mischa. It is set during Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Lecter's family attempt to hide from German Nazi troops in an old hunting lodge out in the countryside woods. His parents are killed in an explosion when a German Stuka bomber crashes into a tank outside their lodging killing all involved except Lecter and his sister.

Armed military forces stumble upon the Lecter's lodge in the middle of a freezing cold Lithuanian winter. The Nazi soldiers are not willing to compromise and do not leave the children alone. They loot the cottage and upon finding no other food in the vicinity, they begin to consider Lecter and his sister as their only dining options in the bitter Baltic winter. Lecter escapes unharmed, but it is revealed later on in the movie via a flashback scene that the Nazi soldiers feasted on his sister's body in a shocking act of violence. This early and traumatic childhood experience gives viewers the first clue about why Lecter is such a cold blooded killer who feasts on his victim's organs – he is out for revenge.

Revenge is only part of the puzzle though. Lecter is a complicated and deeply flawed human being and his teenage years are marked by contrast. On the one hand, he exhibits extraordinary feats of intelligence – he becomes the youngest ever student accepted into a French medical school. On the other hand, he shows the makings of a vicious temper and murderous streak, ruthlessly slaying a butcher who insults his beloved aunt, the Lady Muraski. It isn't just the fact that he kills the butcher – he takes it further by decapitating him. This is the first real display of the mindset of a psychopathic killer from Lecter and gives a taste of what is to come.

It is natural to seek revenge against those who hurt our loved ones, and the clever thing about this movie is that we understand Hannibal's desire to inflict pain on the troops who murdered his sister in such a gruesome manner. We can empathize with this part of him. Lecter finds the names of everyone responsible for his sister's murder. He self-administers a sodium thiopental solution, also known as truth serum, to aid in remembering the murderers' names.

Upon his return to Lithuania, he seeks out his sister's remains, and buries them properly. He then finds dog tags showing the names of each troop that played a role in Mischa's murder. Lecter bumps into one of them, Dortlich and it is here we see his cannibal instincts come to the fore. He forces Dortlich to reveal the whereabouts of everyone else involved in the killing of his sister and subsequently decapitates him. Blood splatters on to Lecter's face and he licks it off in delight. He has now gone past the point of seeking revenge – his psychopathic nature is starting to take shape at this juncture.

The rest of the movie follows Lecter on his journey to find and kill every other soldier who harmed his sister. Lecter uses his knowledge of the human body from his study at medical school to his advantage in seeking out and killing all the remaining men.

Hannibal Rising gives us a fascinating look into the psychopathic nature of Lecter. We learn a lot about his dark origin and troubled past. While we understand his desire for revenge, it is the manner in which he carries it out that highlights him as a flawed human being.

The movie is well-directed and features an impressive lead role performance by Ulliel as Lecter. Although it doesn't lofty heights of the original release in the Hannibal series; the Academy Award winning Silence Of The Lambs. Hannibal Rising shows us the transformation of Lecter from an innocent young boy to a deranged and hateful monster. It is essential viewing for any fan of the franchise.