... For the first hour or so, I say, "Bravo". F*cking bravo. For the second, however, I say as I shake my head, "For shame... For shame"...
Beginning on an extremely linear note, the film opens with a young woman named Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) trekking across the landscape in her beat up car and a collection of cd's lining her dashboard. After a brief encounter with some unfriendly bikers, the woman happens upon a hitchhiker named Max (Benjamin Biolay) who looks as if he should be posing for a Gucci advertisement with his long, dark mane and dead stare. Being the rebel that she is, Charlotte decides to take him for a ride with no real destination. As the minutes become hours, the duo come upon a small, degraded village (think the introduction to Resident Evil: 4) which is home to an even more degraded tavern. As one might be able to tell, any lil' community hidden in the backwoods, which contains no source of technology circa the 1980's and has a kid running around while wrapped in saran wrap, isn't really the place to plan a vacation--let alone even a five-minute stay. Well, they do. And after a brief moment of connection between the two, Max goes missing after a venture to the bathroom. Fearing for him, Charlotte waits by the car... No luck. She stays till nightfall... No luck. She decides to find him back at the tavern... And here's where the film begins paying off its gradually foreboding build-up. The plight at hand mixed with the grittiness of the environment creates a tangible sense of fear and intensity. Once the dilapidated doors are opened and we learn what's going to befall our heroine, a completely new sense of fear envelopes the story and we're rooting for our Charlotte's escape, especially given the sheer audacity of the filmmaker's and what they put her through both mentally and physically. I'm talking hot-iron branding, force-feeding, beatings, knifings, blood transfusions... She and the limited victims around her are but cattle to the antagonists glaring down at them. And while many viewers rose to leave during the harder bits, I felt that the direction and maturity of the overall filmmaking to be that of an indifferent observer. It wasn't trying to exploit or glorify the actions of the villains, it was merely showing things as they were--as these manifestations of evil act and perform. And about them baddies, well, one in particular, the lead antagonist known as the motherly "La Spack" is played pitch-perfectly by Yolande Moreau, and is one vile bitch that will make you hate her just a little bit more every time she's given screen time. In other words, she's an excellent villain.
And then the film reaches its halfway mark and everything changes... For the worse. While the original ordeal was that of a slow-burn, this new dilemma comes out of nowhere. This is where the whole "pack mentality" comes into play. You see, there are actually zombie-like vampires which claw from the muck on the full moon to feed on their prey, supplied by the mother and son themselves. Our heroine is but meat. This development is somewhat of a hurdle because of how well the first hour was developing. With the introduction of these malicious, disfigured denizens, the focus is switched to that of a creature feature instead of a human thriller whose monsters and horrors derive from people themselves. Because when it comes down to it, a human being is always going to be more frightening than that which is make-believe. Now, that's not to say that these two awesome categories can't be combined--it's all in the execution. And when it comes down to it, the execution of this second half is SO atrocious that it's as if it was written and directed by a different writer/director (Frank Richard handled both)who missed the first few weeks of shooting and never bothered to read what actually went down in the movie's first act.
The most problematic aspect is that the narrative has absolutely no purpose after the hour mark. At this point a story-altering decision is made in the demise of a certain character and because of this, gives NO--hear me? NOOOO reason for Charlotte to do... Well, anything. I can't stress enough how pointless the heroine's conflict becomes due to this. It's actually so pathetically pointless that I can't even begin to think of another flick which has had the gall to try it. Then again, Martyrs had something slightly similar occur, but that was still within the realm of possibility--this is not. And without purpose, what's the point? This being the largest flaw, it's hard to justify anything that occurs after, especially when everything that does occur after is mind-blowing in its awfulness. Characters appear and disappear from shot-to-shot or are just plain out forgotten, horror conventions acc*mulate as if trying to earn a medal, plot holes make Swiss cheese of the remaining tale, disjointed editing pops in and out, and the film not only contains a cop-out climax, but one of the most pointlessly depressing endings of recent memory chosen for its disturbing content and nothing more.
This is such a shame because of how compelling the entire first hour is. The cinematography is beautiful because of how ugly it is (if that makes sense). Then again, it should come as no surprise since Laurent Bares is the man behind the look. He was the photographic mastermind behind the likes of Frontier(s), Inside and even Hitman, so you know it's gotta be groovy on the visual front. Moving on, the direction is incredibly well-handled and clever with its use of light and shadow as when the hitchhiker goes into the bathroom and casts a devious glance back, or the tracking shot which follows Charlotte's means to grabbing a pitchfork and escaping her cell. What adds all the more is the excellent soundtrack which adds a completely different layer of despair and terror by utilizing screeching guitars and even harmonicas. This composition recalls Jean-Pierre Taieb's music from Frontier(s) and works wonderfully here as it's thankfully the most consistent element of the entire picture. Even the script is well-written and honestly, quite witty... So what the hell happened, guys? Just get lazy? Didn't want to follow through on the rest of the movie? What was it?
Apparently, this was director Frank Richard's first feature, and for the first hour or so, I say, "Bravo". F*cking bravo. For the second, however, I say as I shake my head, "For shame... For shame"...