Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leave La France! Chapter 1: Death by Chance

I'm going to start my look at French horror with a lesson in existentialism. Did you know that life has no meaning, that it's cruel and savage and we should just give the fuck up? Hurry up and fucking kill yourself before someone picks you at random and dismembers all your friends and your family right before your eyes then murders you. Cause apparently David Moreau, Xavier Palud, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury all just figured that out and the best we can do is hope to die quickly. If they don't think that, how come their films are so soul-crushingly hopeless and grim, I ask you? Granted Ils (or Them) is a well made little thriller, but why oh why do the makes of the films below feel that really what we want to see is people dying for no reason. France must be the most nihilistic place on the planet, because though people like Bryan Bertino and Greg McLean don't have the sunniest outlooks, at least they offer some glimmer of hope that not everybody's going to get brutally murdered. Here are two very good reasons to get the hell out of France.

by David Moreau & Xavier Palud

Lucas and Clementine, like so many cinematic heroes before them, put a stopper in their affairs and head to the country for a vacation. Not long after they arrive, it becomes clear that someone (or ones) is watching them. The two lovers are really in for it tonight, you see; the same people watching them are already in the house and they mean them considerable harm. Should it come as comfort or a shock to learn that these relentless menaces are actually just a couple of teenagers that are also responsible for the murder of a mother and daughter we saw in the prologue and that if they don't get stopped, they'll probably just keep killing people? The kids chase Lucas and Clementine out of their house, into the woods and down into the sewers. Where will it end?

The plot is about as simple as they come and as "we have a camera, let's make a movie" excursions in horror go it is remarkably without flaws. It's representational in style and moves in real time when the kids show up to do their terrorizing. In fact, the only problem lies in it being completely unproblematic. It's realistic as all get out and its got some real kick in parts; the tension is really what carries it along, but after all that tension, I would have liked some relief (or some absolutely crazy explanation for things, something involving Satan or aliens). Alas, there is no relief. Like Funny Games without the post-modern commentary on movie violence, it has nothing but bad news. The randomness of the whole thing is part of some new filmmaking trend (present also in films like The Strangers and Eden Lake). I don't know if all every director in the genre had his or her heart broken at exactly the same time or some existentialist memo went floating around first-time director headquarters, but all at once the video rental stations in this country were inundated with films that seem to posit that we'll be lucky to die of natural causes.
I have no qualms about the film per se; it's virtually style free and has no moral but it scared me a few times. Those poor bastards in the director's chair got suckered into directing the American remake of The Eye, so it may be over for them, but we'll see. Maybe the cinematic gods we'll smile down on them and give them the chance to make another little film. And if those same gods exist, let's hope they give our next directors a severe case of Never-direct-another-fucking-thing-so-long-as-they-live-itis.

À l'intérieur
by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

Open on a terribly done CG baby that we'll see entirely too much of in this film and the mother's voice over. She says that nothing can take her baby away, then, just as she's finished that creepy bit of business, a car accident kills the thing in utero or so it would seem. We follow one of the crash's victims, Sarah, as she, a few months down the line on Christmas Eve, prepares for her holiday as a single mother. Her boyfriend died in the crash, you see. She goes to her ultra sound, meets her inexplicably disappointing mother, her father-figure editor, and then goes home. Just as she starts settling in, someone knocks on her door. The voice that asks to use her telephone should sound familiar. It claims that there's been an accident and that her boyfriend is dying. When Sarah refuses to let the woman in, claiming her husband is asleep, the voice shoots back a cool "No he's not. He's dead." That scares Sarah pretty badly, but not half as much as when the woman goes around to the back door and bangs on the glass. Sarah takes a picture of her and somehow manages to develop it before the police show up. Maybe someone can sort this out exactly, but developing a photograph takes usually about 5-10 minutes on average, and unless the police don't give a tinker's damn about their jobs, they'll be there in about two. This is the first of this film's many mistakes.

The police tell her that it's probably nothing but that they'll leave someone in the area just in case. Still riled up, Sarah calls her mother and her editor to tell them that something bad has happened. Before either person shows up, Sarah goes to bed. When she wakes up, the girl is on top of her with a pair of enormous metal scissors. The girl (who doesn't get a name) stabs her in the face and the stomach. Sarah throws the girl off and locks herself in the bathroom with a phone. Before she can get much into the reciever, the girl turns the fusebox off. Between different schemes to get into the bathroom (Sarah defends herself with broken mirror glass and a sewing needle alternately), the woman greets Sarah's editor at the door and convinces him that she is in fact Sarah's mother. That scheme goes south when Sarah's real mother shows up. The woman murders her editor and Sarah kills her mother whom she mistakes for the woman with the scissors. Then it's back to being locked in the bathroom.

Some cops make their rounds and figure out that the woman is not actually Sarah (no nine months of baby in her belly). The woman overpowers the one cop, kills him, steals his gun and then shoots the second (whose face literally explodes); that leaves one cop and a punk that he’s arrested as cavalry. The cop deputizes the thug (which would never happen) and enters the house with a hand-cannon and his gun. Thinking that the girl has escaped, they wrap up the wounds on Sarah's hands and then leave her to go switch the fusebox on again. What cop in the fucking world would leave a bleeding pregnant woman alone with a killer on the loose without calling for backup or an ambulance? Well Sergeant Fuckup gets his with a hand-cannon almost immediately after he gets to the fusebox and because the thug is handcuffed to him, he gets it right afterwards. Sarah walks downstairs and she and the mystery lady have it out, cutting each other to ribbons with household objects. Sergeant Fuckup wakes up and then gets killed again because he jeopardizes the baby; that's when we figure out who the woman with the scissors is. She was the other person in the car crash and she lost her baby. In her mind that means she's entitled to Sarah's baby. And just when you think this movie can't any grimmer, the woman cuts the baby out of Sarah's womb and holds it while they all die. Then god shows up and urges everyone to throw themselves into the nearest lake with an arm full of cinderblocks because seriously what on earth is the fucking point to a film like this?

I'm inclined to heap hyperbole on this nightmare, but it's really just the lowest trash I've seen in a couple of weeks. I watch so many awful films that to give it more credit than that is to undermine real dross like Entrails of a Beautiful Woman or Hostel which deserve your hard-earned contempt. À l'intérieur is plainly an exercise in gore effects with a lazy, logic-free script and a story no one gives a damn about. That's why I don't mind ruining the ending for you, because it comes after 90 plus minutes of torment both in the film and to your sensibilities. This isn't a horror film so much as an exercise in sickening tedium. It’s a movie for those wondering if France were capable of a film as nauseating as Saw or Cabin Fever. Every minute there's a new gross-out designed to make you look away. Someone new walks in, is bested by Ms. Jason Voorhees and falls onto the ludicrously large pile of bodies. Then she kills the thing she came for which makes her warped revenge was all for naught. Joe D'Amato made films that had one or two of these set-pieces, but never all right in a row and never in the same location. And you know what else? He let people live. I'd take something derivative and boring like Absurd or hedonistic like Trap Them and Kill Them over masochistic rubbish like this, anyday. Why would I want to watch a film made by people who seem to like the idea of stabbing a pregnant woman to death? What about a scissor-induced miscarriage sounds appealing, I ask you?

It's old news when a major film has nothing to say but when independent filmmakers produce staggering amounts of films with no moral compass, no thesis or really anything at all to say, that saddens me. I liked Ils but I'm not wild about it's empty philosophy and I hated À l'intérieur because it had no philosophy and focused entirely on gore that it couldn't even pull off convincingly. It's a film about violence made by people who've clearly never seen any in real life. These movies are remarkably unkind to humanity and so I don't get why they got made or that people should go out of their way to see them. Not when horror movies with something to say are out there waiting to be found. I get that life has no purpose, but that's why I watch films. I want more than nothing.

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