5150 Elm’s Way (5150, Rue des Ormes) may just be the best French-Canadian shocker since Martyrs. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Senécal, who also serves as the film’s screenwriter. Director Éric Tessier masterfully guides his skilled cast, creating a deceptively banal movie with brutal resonance. Why this film is almost completely unknown amongst Horror aficionados is a mystery to me–and something I intend to rectify immediately.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: When film student Yannick (Marc-André Grondin) falls off his bike and goes to 5150 Elms Way for help, he gets more than he bargained for. Locked up by religious psychopath Jacques Beaulieu (Normand D’Amour), he is beaten, tortured and driven to the edge of madness before he is offered a way out: beat Beaulieu at chess and he can go free. It sounds simple but Beaulieu has never lost a game and believes it is because of God’s will. Now a pawn in a game of life and death, Yan must win or lose his mind.
Since I started this review with a reference to Martyrs, I should probably clarify and elaborate. For starters, 5150 Elm’s Way is nowhere near as controversial; whereas Martyrs is filled with scenes of extreme violence against woman, the “evil” of 5150 seems (at least at first) more garden variety. While this may seem like a dis on 5150, the truth is that when these two films are held up side-by-side, Martyrs seems rather outlandish. And that’s what makes 5150 Elm’s Way such a deceptive film: Everything feels almost pedestrian at the onset; the terror starts small but escalates gradually, gaining intensity right up to the chilling conclusion. Both film’s feature brilliant acting, and, in the end, both films are absolutely devastating and nearly unforgettable.
Like the best examples of New French Extremity, 5150 Elm’s Way exists in a universe without karma. From what we can tell, Yannick hardly deserve the fate that befalls him. He’s a good kid, loves his momma; he’s just been accepted into a film program in a new city and he’s sad to leave her and his girlfriend behind (although there’s clearly a strained relationship between Yannick and his father). When he sees a mini-hooligan steal another youngster’s ice-cream sandwich, he steps in and sets things straight. Everything suggests this young man is an upstanding member of society. So what brings him to the Beaulieu residence? Nothing but bad fucking luck, a fact hammered home by the symbolism of a black cat crossing his path. This is a major source of the film’s intensity: Yannick’s naturally good nature and the seemingly insignificant events that brought him to the Gates of Hell–it’s frustrating and infuriating and so fucking unfair!
Jacques Beaulieu is one of the worst types of psychopaths: Those who believe their deeds are sanctioned by God himself. He doesn’t see himself as a bad guy–oh quite the contrary; in his mind, Jacques is the leader of a righteous army. His victims include drug addicts and pedophiles and other dregs of humanity. So how does upstanding Yannick find himself mixed up with this dastardly fellow? Wrong place, wrong time; a muffled call for help leads the young good Samaritan up a flight of stairs where he meets the madman’s latest victim in mid-dispatch. Jacques doesn’t need to be convinced that Yannick doesn’t fit his profile, but he’s over a barrel; if he sets him free he’ll come back with the cops. And then Jacques gets it: It’s all part of “God’s plan”. When he promises to set Yannick free if he can beat him at a game of chess, it seems a safe bet; he’s never lost a game in his entire life (the house is filled with championship plaques and trophies).
From this point forward (roughly half-way in), the film is constantly circling back to this completion. I know, that probably sounds boring as hell, but it’s amazing how engrossing these games of chess become. Over the course of months, Yannick goes from a fumbling amateur to someone with master-level skills. The tension is absolutely unnerving and beautifully shot; when they are locked in battle, the rest of the world ceases to exist. In these moments, Yannick feels almost free, transported to an otherworldly cerebral arena beyond the walls of 5150. When he feels close to besting Jacques, he imagines his imprisoner oozing black liquid from his face’s every orifice. It’s completely compelling, edge of your seat action–an incredibly feat for a game that’s nearly silent and motionless.
But Jacques is more than a misguided chess champion with a habit of killing people, he’s a master manipulator and a family man. Another terrifying aspect of this character is the completely-believable mask of sanity he wears–an attribute that makes him all the more deadly. He rules his wife and kids with a combination of intimidation and indoctrination. In many respects, he’s like Dexter‘s “Trinity Killer”: Disciplined and controlled–until you push him too far. These guys don’t appreciate challenges to their authority.
The members of Jacques’ brood are all incredibly interesting, both as individuals and as a family. There’s his wife, Maude (Sonia Vachon), a sympathetic yet utterly ineffectual woman; obviously conditioned by years of abuse, she wants her husband to spare Yannick but is powerless to assert her will. There’s his young daughter Anne (Élodie Larivière), mute and clearly mentally troubled. And then there’s Michelle–beautiful, dangerous Michelle (played by mega-hottie Mylène St-Sauveur). She seems to possess all of her father’s warped ideology, but coupled with a complete lack of self control, she’s a volatile beast to say the least. Michelle is at least as interesting as both Jacque and Yannick and I’m pleased to have learned that Senécal has written other works of fiction about this character.
And speaking of Senécal’s works of fiction, apparently the novel 5150 Elm’s Way is even more violent and disturbing than the film–and that’s saying a lot; it might not have the over-the-top extremism of Martyrs, but it’s very hard to watch nonetheless. In addition to being unnerving, the violence is portrayed in a very real and non-glamorous fashion that’s literally nauseating. The conclusion is nothing short of jaw-dropping, the culmination of endless games of chess taken to absolutely hellish levels of grotesquery. In case you’re not familiar with French-Canadian Horror, you have no business expecting a happy ending, satisfaction, or even a sense of resolution. It’s part of the formula that makes this subgenre so powerful. This is one of those rare Horror movies that I’d recommend all cinema enthusiasts check out, not because it’s mainstream or easy to digest (oh no no no) but because it’s so fucking good! Anyone who appreciates a film like Silence of the Lambs and has the ability to see artistic merit no matter how it’s presented will (hopefully) enjoy 5150 Elm’s Way as much as I did.
Horror aficionados especially: Run, don’t walk.
4 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Éric Tessier|
|Produced by||Pierre Even
|Written by||Patrick Senécal|
|Music by||Christian Clermont|
|Editing by||Alain Baril|
|Distributed by||Alliance Vivafilm|