Filed under: tv and movies
Embracing the spirit of Halloween, here’s a little something about French horror movies from greencine (an excerpt). Yes, there ARE French horror films!
“…The French horror-meisters are after something more vicious, grounded in a sense of the actual possibilities of terror on the body and psyche…
8. Sheitan (Satan). A racially diverse and hip group of teenagers end a rambunctious night out in the city by traveling to the rural home of a beautiful girl they meet in a disco. It turns out the place is inhabited by her strange country-bumpkin family, lead by a grinning, delirious, and slightly menacing housekeeper, played with over the top relish by Vincent Cassel (one of France’s leading actors). As the city kids realize trouble may be in store, Sheitan builds an impending sense of dread that is offset, and made more unsettling, by a quirky, jittery sense of humor. The house is an effectively creepy funhouse filled with strange artifacts and odd angles, and the film plays like a French version of The Twilight Zone: we know something is dreadfully wrong but we are not sure what. It is intriguing fun to find out the answer, a combination of satanic ritual, family secrets, and unholy birth – even if by the end we are still not completely clear what exactly has happened. The last shot is a bizarre visual joke that is both memorable and very French.
7. Calvaire: The Ordeal. Marc (Laurent Lucas), a small time entertainer, makes an appearance at an old folks home, where he awkwardly fends off the advances of an older woman (a cameo by the most famous French porn star of the 70’s, Brigitte Lahaie). Back out on the road, beset by a suspicious set of circumstances, he finds himself stranded in a small town, where he winds up at a hotel with no other residents (always a bad sign!). Like Sheitan (without any of the lightheartedness), the film is a paranoid nightmare about being trapped in an otherworldly conspiracy, set out in the country where the world has been allowed to go mad. Marc’s own anxiety about sex, hinted at in the first scenes, becomes manifest in his increasingly surreal and threatening situation: it soon becomes apparent that the hotel-keeper, who really misses his departed wife, has deranged plans and affections for his guest, while the other male townsfolk spend their time trying to screw pigs, and eventually turn their attention to Marc. The entire place seems to be under the sway of some hypnotic torpor, in which suppressed (homo)sexual urges fester. This dynamic is brought to life most powerfully in an amazing bar scene when the men dance together as if possessed by a secret backwoods ritual.
6. I Stand Alone. Gaspar Noé’s first film centers on a lonely and disturbed butcher played by Philippe Nahon, whose bulbous face is emblematic of the tone of the new French wave – a mixture of cynicism, menace, and grotesquerie. He lives in almost complete psychological isolation, and the Boogeyman chasing him is the emptiness of life itself. In unrelentingly somber fashion, the smothering awareness of alienation closes in, embodied by a technique that Noe uses repeatedly throughout the film in which the camera aggressively moves toward Nahon’s grim visage in a series of jarring jump cuts. No violence happens in these moments, but the magic trick is that they are as suspenseful as most scenes in which blood is spilled. There is no mistaking the implication of Noé’s atmospherics, a bold cinematic play on the phenomenology of existentialism: it is reality itself that is frightening. The butcher’s psychological torture chamber finds a tragic catharsis in the finale, when overwhelmed by incestuous lust and guilt, he commits a horrible act against his own institutionalized daughter. One of the most upsetting things I had ever seen until Noé’s second film (see bottom of the list).
5. Them (a.k.a. Ils) (Them). A couple vacationing at an elegant and isolated manse find themselves terrorized by faceless, seemingly purposeless hooded killers (roughly the same plot is found in the just-released American film The Strangers). The film is an exercise in sustained suspense, as the sanctity and safety of home is slowly encroached upon with eerie precision. The attack is made more unnerving because of its anonymity. In the end, daylight comes, sweeping away all the tension of the proceeding night, and the identity of “them” is revealed. And a mysterious auditory cue for their menacing presence that appears throughout the film is explained by the most innocent of objects, adding to the creepy surprise.