Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2005)

Fear 2/5
Gore 1/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 4/5
Nightmares 1/5

Conceptually, you’ve seen this film a hundred times before. A guy driving through a remote area is stuck when his car breaks down. He finds a local inn run by a lonely old guy who seems nice at first but soon starts to get a bit screwy and events take a turn for the worst. It’s an old story that’s been used numerous times. The triumph of the Belgian film Calvaire, however, is in its simple and straight forward execution.

There are no teenagers, no kids, no damsels in distress and no cheap scares. There are no flashy camera shots, pricey CGI effects or montages shown over a blaring soundtrack of goth-rock-nu metal. Even the credits are more like a Woody Allen film than a horror film. The film is simple in its production and doesn’t rely on any unneeded plot twists or moments of “aha!” Instead, the story is told in a linear fashion that makes the whole thing seem all the more frightening because you know what’s going to happen next. The it happens and it’s just as gruesome as you expected.

There are two things that really make this movie effective – and by “effective”, I mean creepy and disturbing. First is the near total absence of any kind of soundtrack. The only music in the film is the music that the main character performs (he is a lounge singer). Soundtracks can be a great tool to add atmosphere and tension to a film, but when there is no background music at all, at anytime, the horrible situations before your eyes seem much more real and immediate.

The second thing that works really well is the subtle approach to the gruesome events that occur in the movie. There is no splattering gore, no close ups of guts and brains and the camera often pulls away before the violence depicted can be shown. You know what is happening and that is enough because the events taking place are awful enough without needing to really examine them in gory detail. And believe me, the events in this film take a wrong turn about halfway through and get really creepy and icky. And just plain weird at times. Think Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but done by Belgians.

The film ends with no real resolution and leaves a lot of questions open – specifically the ones around motive and purpose. There is also a lingering question about the reality of the characters ordeal – his “Calvaire – that leaves you wondering yourself about what you just saw. This sort of ending can be maddening to some, but in this case it’s all part of the package where things are a little too real.

Complaint Department
I'm not sure what to make of this movie after watching it yesterday. Was it disturbing? Partially. Left of center? Completely. The dancing jig in the bar is going to give me nightmares for weeks. But there is something missing and I'm not quite sure why I can't get too overly excited about this flick, at least not yet anyways. Maybe I need a few days to let this one marinate.
The end WAS maddening and maybe its the lack of closure that is bugging me a little right now. I have my own interpretation, namely that the main character, because of all the trauma that unfolded, actually started to believe that maybe he WAS the long lost love of the innkeeper. But not having this validated is probably what is making me more frustrated than anything. That's the only way that my feeble mind can interpret the end of this movie.
Do I recommend watching this? A resounding hell yes, but I'm not sure I am able to add it my list of favorites yet. Maybe I need a repeat viewing.
Cortez the Killer


the fucking beard said...

I was impressed with this one because it made me want to take a hundred showers without resorting to showing me a total dismemberment like Hostel or something. While there were times when I felt like I was watching a remake of Texas Chainsaw, I still thought it was well done and again, left me feeling dirty.

Cortez the Killer said...

I need to see this ASAP. Good review.

Joe said...

This was my favorite film, horror or otherwise, of 2005!