Dir: Kim Chapiron
Star: Olivier Barthelemy, Vincent Cassel, Roxane Mesquida, Nico Le Phat Tan

Difficult to get a handle on this: you could say Cassel's performance was brilliant or atrocious, and I'd not argue much, either way. All maniacal grin and wild, staring eyes, while undeniably a full serving of overcooked ham, this is equally a disturbing portrayal of barely-suppressed lunacy. He plays Joseph, the housekeeper of a remote French house, to which Bart (Barthelemy) and his two friends are lured by Eve (Mesquida); blinded by their lust, they don't realise what a perilous situation they're in. There's some not exactly subtle religious metaphors here: it's the night before Christmas, Joseph's wife is called Marie and is about to give birth, while Joseph is overly protective of snakes. It doesn't take a genius to work out what's going on here, and the audience will be screaming "Run away!" at the screen, in almost any scene involving Joseph. Or the locals, who all appear to be swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool, shall we say.

If only occasionally unpredictable - notably, a nicely-handled swerve at the end - the movie does possess a steadily-building sense of escalation, to the point where anything can happen [though the sequence involving one country girl and Bart's dog establishes that fairly early on]. By the end, it's got a demented, runaway ghost-train feel, with Cassel at the wheel, muttering "The louder you scream, the faster we go..." The downside is, none of the victims are the least bit likeable, so the horrific aspects are dimmed somewhat; there's little emotional involvement, or reason to care about the fate of the characters. That may be deliberate, but one main character vanishes entirely at the end, which definitely is sloppy cinema. Still, it packs an undeniable wallop: it's clear that Duelling Banjos works just as well, when played on the accordion...

[The DVD was released through Tartan Video USA on December 26th (it got held up in the Xmas rush!), and comes with a making-of doc and theatrical trailer. For more information, visit the Tartan Video website]

January 2007

Country cousins...

Home for the holidays
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