Darkness descends on Venice as the film festival draws to a close, with tales of brutality, callousness, chilling indifference and failed relationships all vying for the Golden Lion award.
With only one red carpet to go, festivities in the floating city are winding up, the stream of wild parties with star guests over, as the festival's jury, led by acclaimed American director Darren Aronofsky, draws up the winners.
Death and fear pervade in Ami Canaan Mann's "Texas Killing Fields," premiering Friday, in which a small-town cop and a New York City detective race against time to crack the pathological mindset of a sadistic serial killer.
With an abundance of night scenes, the film draws an ever-tightening noose around the men as the murderer, who abandons his victims mutilated bodies in a nearby marsh, turns the tables on the detectives and begins to hunt them.
Still in Texas, William Friedkin's dark comedy "Killer Joe" tells a tale of unrelentless violence in which a small-time drug peddler hunted by loan sharks hires a hit man to murder his mother for her $50,000 life insurance policy.
From the director of "The Exorcist", this blood-splattered noir with Freudian undercurrents was a hit with critics as it explored humanity's sinister drives through a dysfunctional, trailer trash family that underestimates the smooth-talking Joe.
Noir lovers also highly praised Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov's "Faust", a visceral adaptation of Goethe's tragic play with stomach-turning moments including hearts gauged from corpses and defecation in a church.
"Evil is reproducible and Goethe formulated its essence: 'unhappy people are dangerous'," Sokurov told journalists in Venice, confessing that he had been forced to cut many scenes from the film because the horror was "too extreme."
Unhappiness is a central theme in Gian Alfonso Pacinotti's debut "The Last Man on Earth," where Italians weary of the financial crisis and trapped in emotionless relationships await the arrival of an alien race with indifference.
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Fifteen minutes of applause at the premiere of the film, in which characters go from spiritual exploitation to murdering transvestites, and it is up to the aliens to distinguish right from wrong and forge a future for humanity.
Gloom continues with the aftermath of the financial crisis in Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To's "Life Without Principle," a heist movie in which people struggling to make ends meet are persuaded to invest, only to lose everything.
Named after Henry David Thoreau's 19th century rules for righteous living, the film is a snapshot of a degraded modern society that gambles on its values.
So far, so cathartic. But despite the roll call of bleak films, the festival line-up has offered the odd moment of reprieve over the last few days.
The protagonists of director Emanuele Crialeses "Terraferma" - a tale of fishermen from a tiny Italian island who rescue a group of African refugees from drowning at sea - are determined to uphold their values at any cost.
Critics were largely unconvinced, but were not as scathing as they were for Italian director Cristina Comencini's cliched "When the Night" love story about the trials of maternity, which was heartily booed by reviewers.
While Comencini would appear to have been written off, movie buffs are still far from agreed over which of the 23 films in competition this year looks like the favourite to win.
International critic reviews have so far tipped Roman Polanski's grotesque comedy of manners "Carnage," followed closely by George Clooney's political thriller "The Ides of March" and Steve McQueen's tale of sex obsession "Shame."
The award ceremony will end the suspense at around 1700 GMT on Saturday.
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