Sunday, August 26, 2007


The French aren’t exactly known for their horror movies. Eyes Without a Face and Jean Rollin aside, the nation as a whole really hasn’t stepped up to the plate when it comes to this much-maligned genre. That’s a large part of why it was a bit surprising to me that Calvaire wound up being so good.

It’s hard to find a way to describe this movie in a way that doesn’t make it sound fairly pedestrian. The film plays a bit like a blend of other horror movies, most notably Misery and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It stars a singer who, while venturing through the countryside, has his car break down in the worst possible area in the world, and is put through an incredible amount of hell for it. The bulk of the film is merely him being abused by the inhabitants of the town he breaks down near, and his attempt to escape from them. Like I said, just going by the story, there’s not that much that makes the film stand out.

Where it works its magic, though, is in the overall style of the film, in the incredibly unsettling and horrid nature of the town and the inn where he is trapped for the bulk of the movie. The innkeeper seems initially friendly, but ominous signs begin to pile up about him, and soon enough he mistakes the young singer for his unfaithful ex-wife, kidnaps him, and begins dressing him like her. The rest of the town isn’t going to come to the rescue, either. Their first appearance, while the singer is out on his walk, has him stumbling upon a group of them engaging in a friendly bit of gang bestiality, and things swiftly go downhill from there.

I have to say, for a movie that doesn’t really have that much blood in it (well, comparatively, at least), it’s really one of the more brutal horror movies I’ve seen. It’s uncomfortable in all the right ways, it never shies away from taking its tale to horrifying extremes, and its well acted and paced enough that you never get bored. It’s probably the best movie I’ve seen from France since 2001’s Amelie. Hunt it down, pronto.

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