After the huge international success of the film Gomorrah in 2008 followed by its acclaimed recent TV adaptation, Francesco Munzi’s Anime Nere has a tough act to follow. While there are no end of films depicting the mafia, and Gomorrah shows life in Naples’ camorra underworld, this time it’s the turn of the Calabrian ’ndrangheta.

The opening scene is a chilly and grey waterfront in Holland before travelling south to Milan, then all the way down to the tiny mountainside village of Aspromonte, yet as it reaches the Mediterranean the film never manages to shake off those downcast and icy tones. Outside, from north to south it’s dark, grey and gritty.

Luigi (Marco Leonardi) is in Holland to close a drugs deal, then it’s off to Milan for celebrations with his brother, the solid and steady Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta). But there’s another brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), ensconced down south, determined to live a life of agrarian idyll with his goats and vineyards and set against any involvement with the clan conflicts of his hometown. However, there is little hope of that happening with a son like Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), a hothead who’s sick of the family farm. He views his father’s docility as cowardice and is keen to get into uncle Luigi’s family business. And it is Leo who kicks off all kinds of trouble that leads to the inevitable war between the feuding families in this desolate environment.

Munzi portrays Aspromonte in sharp contrast to the northern cities of previous scenes: here, the ’ndrangheta aside, life seems pretty bucolic on the surface, what with all the goats, lack of cars and a dearth of contemporary accoutrements. Yet this film is no Le Quattro Volte: this is an environment in serious decline, the old village crumbling to dust. Here, even the statue of the saint in the desolate church wields an axe. Luciano’s family home is shot in warm hues that contrast with the outside world, yet rather than creating warmth the feeling is that we have stepped into a dark and sepia-toned past. This is contrasted nicely with the unfinished concrete stairwell in the home: the old and the new live side by side but are as alien and incompatible as Milan is to Aspromonte.

As hostilities mount, Munzi creates an atmosphere of tension as we wait to see who will be the first victim. Once the assassination takes place, it is all par for the course in terms of pace and storyline. We’ve seen this all before, the old ladies chanting Catholic rites over a coffin, the wrinkled mother dressed in black, the mercurial loyalties of the families and the steadfastness of the clan’s henchmen. We have to wait for the denouement for Munzi to offer us any surprises, which he does to great effect. While this is no masterpiece, Munzi’s film is a competent and unflinching look at yet another side to Italy’s organized crime families.