August 11, 2006

Slow Moving Dread, Lots of Fog


For a really long time Cinecultist has been a vocal opponent of horror films. We don't see them. We refuse. We're a huge 'fraidy cat. However, in the last few years our stronger credo of "see whatever is put in front of us" has exposed CC to more horror, and we think we've developed a tougher skin. We probably won't seek out Texas Chainsaw Massacre say, a movie recently our friend Eric told us about seeing for the first time, but when an editor asks CC to review a movie like Calvaire (The Ordeal), we'll start saying okay more quickly.

Calvaire is a Belgian movie made in 2004 by Fabrice du Welz and is finally getting a limited theatrical release here in the States, before it comes out on DVD in the fall. It stars Laurent Lucas as Marc Stevens, a cabaret-style singer who travels around the countryside performing for small groups. At the start of the film, we see how incredibly attractive Marc can be to his audiences, inspiring stalker-like devotion from two female fans, one quite old who smooches him in the dressing room and another much younger who gives him nudie pictures of herself. Like in Hitchcock's Psycho, these opening scenes which establish our protagonist's sexual appeal will later prove to be his serious liability.

On a country road to the next gig, Marc's van breaks down in the fog (classic horror movie mistake) and he enlists the help of a nice seeming young man searching for his doggie (also a mistake) to lead him to a nearby inn (don't do it, Marc!). At the Bartel Inn, the proprietor Bartel offers him a dank room and promises Marc the next day they'll easily fix his van. However at day break, this creepy, remote locale gets creepier and creepier as Bartel becomes less and less helpful. Also those town folk, all seriously scruffy dudes with a deep fascination for their livestock, don't seem to be too normal either. And then things start to get REALLY bad for Marc.

Perhaps what we liked most about this movie is that nothing pops out to goose you. To Cinecultist, that's cheap horror. Besides, we don't like leaping out of our seats, and trust us when we say, Cinecultist can really leap. Rather, Du Welz keeps his dread slow moving, lumbering and the more bizarre the better. Many times we peered closer to the screen muttering, "Wha? Did he really just do that? That's messed!" Jackie Berroyer, the grandfatherly looking actor who plays Bartel, gives a seriously disturbed performance; it's quite fucked up and menacing. But this movie doesn't try to offer any psychological explanations at the end, ala Hitch. It just leaves you with the lingering weird feeling that all isn't right, and it's not going to get any better. A pretty horrific conclusion actually, if you ask us.

Production still of Jackie Berroyer as Bartel in Calvaire (The Ordeal). The movie plays starting this weekend at the Cinema Village.

Posted by karen at August 11, 2006 9:18 AM