(In theatres, March 2010) Given my friendship with Patrick Senécal, who adapted his own novel to the big screen in this minimalist anti-revenge thriller, don’t expect a completely unbiased review. (Hey, I’m even friends with the doctor who suggested to Senécal some of the story’s most gruesome moments.) If nothing else, I’ve had conversations with Senécal about his intent to question the vengeful nature of contemporary movies, and so I tend to judge the film version in terms of how well it manages to avoid turning into the kind of films it’s meant to criticize. It’s a delicate balance: When the doctor-protagonist’s daughter is kidnapped, raped and killed, he chooses to take justice in his own hands, renounce his Hippocratic Oath and subject the accused to seven days of meticulously planned torture. But what could have been a run-of-the-mill thriller turns into something far more disturbing chiefly because of what it doesn’t do. The absence of background music, at first off-putting, eventually becomes disturbing in how it supports the film’s stark cinematography and allows no emotional distance from the events on-screen. The camera seldom seems to move or give viewers the benefit of cinema-like movement: Everything is meant to be as real, unpolished and brutal as could be in real-life. Other absences are subtler yet harsher: Torturer and child molester never exchange even a single line of dialogue, and a last whispered “No” abruptly makes the film avoid the cheap moralism it could have embraced easily. It goes without saying that this refusal to glamorize violence does exactly what it’s supposed to do: While the film’s gore isn’t particularly bloody by horror-movie standards, its contextualization makes it seem almost unbearable. Many, many viewers simply won’t make it to the end of the film, and those who do may find that the ending isn’t the satisfying revenge fantasy that everyone would be expecting. As such, the film accomplishes its basic goals, even if that doesn’t satisfy all audiences. There are, as you would expect, a few flaws: Some of the book’s shakier third-act flourishes feel far less tolerable on the big screen and dilute the intensity of the film. In more nit-picky matters, the newscasts feel forced. But Senécal’s third adaptation of his own work is, in some ways, the most successful so far: After Sur le Seuil and 5150 Rue des Ormes, Les Sept Jours du Talion continue to show Senécal moving away from solid but conventional horror into more complex moral dilemmas… something that has become even more obvious in his latest novels. So when are they going to be brought to the big screen as well?
(In theatres, October 2009) I’m not going to be particularly objective in reviewing this film: Screenwriter Patrick Senécal (adapting his own novel) has been a good acquaintance of mine for years, I obtained tickets to the premier via a network of friendly contacts and I’ve got distant financial ties to the publisher of the original novel. Yeah, I’m biased. Still, it’s fun being biased when the movie being discussed is an accomplished piece of work like this one: a tight claustrophobic thriller, 5150 rue des Ormes manages to be a fair adaptation and a successful film on its own. The story of a teenager who gets trapped inside an ordinary family house by a psychotic man and his accomplice family, this is a thriller that means to lock you in a suburban dungeon along with an average protagonist. It gets much weirder than that, of course, especially when the true nature of the family patriarch’s madness is revealed, and when the hero comes to buy into his twisted rules. Some of the first hour is annoying: those who are expecting an action movie will be frustrated at the hero’s inability to grab a rifle, assault his captors or fiddle his way out of his dungeon. But this is a psychological thriller, not a shoot’em-up, and so we have to buy into some of the uncomfortable staging in order to get to the real core of the story. Fortunately, director Eric Tessier keeps things moving at a decent pace, and he can depend on a number of capable actors: Normand D’Amour is particularly effective as the evil patriarch, a thankless role on which much of the film depends. It all leads to an increasingly grotesque third act, and a deliberately unsatisfying conclusion that refuses to tie up all the threads. (Senécal fans already know that one of the characters missing in action eventually gets a sequel of sorts.) While not above a few credibility problems (duration of batteries in the video camera, length of beard, DNA evidence left at the scene of a murder, etc.), 5150 rue des Ormes is another solid thriller made-in-Quebec but fit to be seen anywhere on the planet.