The Belgian Horror film Calvaire (The Ordeal) is ice fucking cold and utterly bleak; a hellish trek into the heart of depravity in a universe without hope. Calvaire is also brilliant slow-burn cinema; a taut, unnerving experience and an example of ruthlessly brutal storytelling; a David-Lynchian descent into a thick, black madness.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Marc Stevens’ world goes profoundly and utterly wrong. When his car breaks down in the middle of the isolated backcountry, he’s forced to seek refuge in a rural inn. Marc is taken in by Bartel, a lonely and psychologically fragile innkeeper who promises to help. But when Marc catches him dismantling his car, he realizes that the innkeeper has other plans for him.
Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) suffers as much as any fictional character seems able, enduring an odyssey of torment equal to that of Sally Hardesty from Texas Chainsaw or Anna from Martyrs. Those boys in Deliverance, even poor Ned Beatty, got off easy by comparison. Rarely do we witness a victim so stripped of identity, so manipulated into an abomination by psychopathic whimsy. The scene where his head is shaved is reminiscent of Jasmine’s desecration in Frontier(s); his forced intimacy as blasphemous and agonizing as Alex’s violation in High Tension. Forced into a dress, Marc’s saga is that of the unluckiest “Final Girls” in Horror movie history.
Calvaire achieves maximum levels of terror without using any Horror movie clichés. Absent are loud noises designed to startle; over-the-top gore is nonexistent; even the soundtrack is unnervingly silent. This banality of delivery makes the violence all the more unsettling—because it is believable. We don’t hear blood curdling screams, rather Marc’s pathetically ineffectual weeping. This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang—but a whimper.
The film’s simplicity of presentation allows a seamless decent into surrealist nightmares. A society without women where children in red raincoats appear like ghosts in the forest. A village pub teems with tension before erupting into deadpan polka maneuvers. An emaciated young lunatic is on a persistent quest to find his lost dog, Bella, who may in fact be a cow (if she even exists at all). It’s a world where psychosis creates its own reality, where isolated clans abide by a warped sense of community.
Anyone even slightly familiar with extreme French and Belgian Horror knows better than to expect a happy ending. While the title, The Ordeal, may seem to imply a finite and survivable experience, it’s such a complete dismemberment that continued existence hardly seems a reward. And while Marc may or may not survive his time in the wilderness, his ordeal will not end with rescue. And should he perish, it’s hard to forget that he was only ever a low-level entertainer, one who seemed to only titillate old women and lonely nurses. Pretty pathetic tombstone fodder. Pigs and livestock may scream as their lives are taken, but the men in Calvaire silently sink into oblivion. Nihilistic to the extreme.
Calvaire is a relentless march through a wasteland of man-made indignities and inhumanity. The Ordeal is more than merely a description of Marc’s hellish winter, it’s what a viewer must also be prepared to endure. Because Calvaire will do it’s best to fuck you up and leave you broken.
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Release Date||October 3 2006|
|Director||Fabrice Du Welz|
|Writer||Fabrice Du Welz, Romain Protat|
|Starring||Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Philippe Nahon, Jean-Luc Couchard, Brigitte Lahaie, Gigi Coursigni, Philippe Grand’Henry, Jo Prestia, Marc Lefebvre, Alfred David, Alain Delaunois, Vincent Cahay, Johan Meys|