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Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
Matchbox Films
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Benjamin Viré
Helena Coppejans
Nicolas Gob
Eric Gordon
Philippe Nahon
Micky Molina
Bottom Line: 
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Downtrodden loner Max (Nicolas Gob) lives an isolated existence in a drab bungalow in a remote piece of Belgian woodland. Here he spends his days alone reading golfing magazines, practicing his swing in the leafy forest and avoiding any contact whatsoever with other people, even refusing to answer the door to his own brother. Max is a chronic agoraphobic, rejecting the world after a murky criminal past got too much to bear. One day he finds a pale, apparently lifeless girl (Helena Coppejans), lying prone in the woods, dressed only in a thin slip and covered in blood. Max pops her over his shoulder and heads back to his house, leaving the viewer uncertain as to his intentions towards this limp, blood-speckled waif.

But the girl seems to recover pretty quickly thereafter, and even finds some soon-to-be liberally-applied lipstick and eye shadow with which to pretty herself up – although unless Max keeps it lying about the place for some reason, one wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to where exactly she’s been storing it all this time. A strange relationship starts to develop between the two misfits. Max doesn’t like to talk or answer questions, and is quite content for ‘Bianca’ (that is what he decides to call her) to hang around the place and make herself at home, so long as neither of them bothers with all that  tiresome getting-to-know-you chit-chat more conventional couples insist upon (‘I won’t get in your way – I’m quiet’). Meanwhile, the girl has been missed by ‘gypsy-ish’ East European and Turkish underworld types from the big city who employ a velvet-suited Leon-style heavy (Eric Gordon) to get her back. He and his two bickering accomplices quickly track her down to Max’s bungalow, set up camp and start to observe -- waiting for the best moment to move in and snatch her from under Max’s nose.

But Bianca and Max’s relationship becomes ever closer and gets increasingly warped after the girl flees into the woods one night and Max follows her – only to find her ‘snacking’ on a local. It seems the girl is periodically subject to uncontrollable bouts of lust which are inextricably connected to the desire to eat human flesh. Max’s tardiness when it comes to human contact has probably saved him from a similar fate, and, now unwilling to turn on him but unable to resist her temptations, Bianca starts to prey on others from a nearby village, with the devoted Max now acting as an accomplice, moving in with a shovel after Bianca’s post-feeding come-down to bury the remains and tidy up the scene. The observers in the woods have clearly been fully expecting Max to go the same way as all the others, and are perplexed by the fact that after days and days of waiting, he still seems to be alive. Eventually, they decide to move in and take the girl, meaning Max will have to venture back into the world once more if he is to stand any chance of ever seeing Bianca again.

The debut low budget feature from Belgian writer-director Benjamin Viré wants so much to build a bridge between the fairy tale surrealist horror-romances of Jean Rollin circa “The Living Dead Girl” and the unique Gallic action cinema style developed by Luc Besson in films such as “Nikita” and “Leon” during the 1990s; but the experiment doesn’t really come off sufficiently successfully enough to make this film feel like the darkly intriguing and provocative thriller with a macabre touch that it aims to be, rather than just a slow, confused and eventually  quite boring piece of work. Viré employs a grainy, washed out look despite the strange choice of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and Raphaël Kolacz’s cinematography looks fairly low-resolution and is as drained of life and vivacity as the character of newcomer Coppejans with her waifish dead-alive paleness.  This grimy palette is awash in stale browns and murky pond greens which makes the blood look black and everything else grey -- and although it succeeds in imbuing Max’s static, life-on-hold existence with a drab air of miserableness and hopelessness, it doesn’t make for a terribly compelling visual experience for the viewer either. The movie is quite sparing in dialogue and surprisingly light on gore but never really manages to make either of the two main characters feel convincing or their relationship seem particularly real, tragic or enthralling. Despite the stillness and the silence at the heart of the film Viré goes for the shaky-cam, fast editing tactic to perk things up a bit and the music soundtrack employs discordant industrial screeches and rumblings in the hopes off building up an ominous atmosphere in the middle section. There’s even some ill-advised rap in the second half of the movie when Max ventures into the city in pursuit of Bianca and the shadowy cabal holding her prisoner.

This second half also experiments with black and white photography in an attempt to foster a feeling for the alienation and remoteness of the protagonist when he’s in the city he finds so confusing and anxiety-inducing; although it doesn’t in the end really feel all that atmospheric, if anything succeeding only in making the film look even duller. Viré does make use of a rare opportunity the device affords him, though, for taking on board an idea seen in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”, in which a gunshot is accompanied by a split-second flash of colour; and this then also triggers colour snatches of Max’s haunting memories of Bianca, helping him to keep going in his search when the odds seem stacked against him. These brief shots look vividly colourful in comparison with the monochrome world he now inhabits, despite their otherwise rather murky appearance.

The main problem is that after a quiet, supposedly smouldering and intriguing first fifty minutes, the second half of the film rather squanders any small amount of momentum previously built up completely, with Max visiting his sick father (Phillippe Nahon), re-forging old criminal contacts in order to arm himself and track down Bianca, and finally following the gypsy cannibal girl-snatchers’ trail to an illegal cage-fighting joint. After a rather tedious and botched build-up, the climax, which clearly wants to be ambiguous, arty and ultimately transcendental is, in the end, none of these things and merely comes across as a complete cop-out – particularly annoying as the running time is an over-extended 100 minutes plus, and yet we still don’t get a proper conclusion. The cast on the whole are okay, but all the roles are either chronically underwritten or stereotypes, particularly the criminal heavies sent to take back Bianca (the spartan plot never establishes how she ended up alone in Max’s stretch of woods in the first place). Although he does a reasonable job, Eric Gordon appears to have been cast merely because he happens to look a lot like Jean Reno, and is there any Belgian-French horror flick these days that hasn’t cast Phillippe Nahon in a cameo role -- no doubt hoping to accrue some associated “Switchblade Romance” kudos?

Matchbox Films release a bare-bones DVD for the UK market which looks okay I suppose, but the film doesn’t seem like it has much of a visual experience to offer in any case, with a fairly low-res, faded appearance throughout. There are no extras included on the disc.

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