Monday, August 16, 2010

European Horrors

This weekend I settled in for a back-to-back European horror-fest. The films I watched were 2004's Calvaire ( The Ordeal ) and 2008's Linkeroever ( Left Bank ). Both were good but in very different ways.
Left Bank reminded me very much in story and tone of Polanski's classic Rosemary's Baby. Subtle performances and striking cinematography combined to give the film a very somber mood with a constant sense of dread as the mysteries in the story were revealed. The story centers on Marie, a 22 year old girl who is training to be a world champion runner. During a period of forced inactivity, she meets Bobby who is the dean of the local Archer's Guild ( it is set in current time but apparently in Belgium there are still Archer's Guilds ). The two begin a relationship and Marie moves in with Bobby during her convalescence. Bobby's grandmother is the landlord of a large block of flats called Left Bank and she has managed to get Bobby an apartment there. Marie finds out that the apartment they are in was occupied by a woman who disappeared and that it was this woman's disappearance that left the apartment open and available for Bobby. She decides to investigate into the woman's disappearance and this forms the driving element of the plot. It is, at its core, a supernatural thriller, but it is couched firmly in the real world which lends weight to the festivities when things inevitably begin to get strange.
The Ordeal was even more impressive and much less fun to watch. It is a very dark ride indeed. I could not help but think of the work of David Lynch as I watched the film. The story follows along the familiar "fish out of water" storyline. The main character is a traveling performer/singer and at the beginning of the film is finishing up a stint at an old-folks home. He leaves the home a few days before christmas to head to his next show "to the north". The scenes at the old-folks home are weird, very weird, so I was disconcerted from the very beginning. Things become progressively weirder as car-trouble leaves our hero with the peculiar character of Mr. Bartel, who runs a defunct inn out in the absolute middle of nowhere. The Ordeal had me recalling scenes from things as diverse as Hostel, Last House on the Left, Deliverance, Martyrs and Blue Velvet. The performances are all utterly off-kilter and confounding. As things become increasingly heavy and dark, the goofy little idiosyncracies of the characters almost made me laugh in the midst of all the truly disturbing scenarios that the main character found himself in. As with Left Bank, the cinematography in The Ordeal was truly beautiful, with verdant landscapes full of dark, loamy soil and primeval forests. The world of the film is not the world we all live in, but a nightmare which I would want to quickly awake from.
Both films are highly recommended, with a strong warning about The Ordeal, the name is, in many ways, very appropriate.

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