Ginger Nuts of Horror
Come on in, the water's lovely...
Dir. Fabrice Du Welz, Belgium/France/Luxembourg, 88 mins
So, welcome back to another week of Film Gutter! We've never been afraid to wade into unfamiliar waters – after all, very often that's where the excitement lies. And as such, this week we're going distinctly European with this tri-country collaborative effort. France certainly has a fine reputation for harrowing extreme horror, so how will the Belgian-led offering Calvaire (The Ordeal) fare today? It's a move that has drawn distinctly mixed reviews in the decade since its release, so let's see what we make of it here...
Calvaire follows the story of Marc Stevens, whom we first meet in his role as a low-rent singer making his living touring old people's homes and other such less-than-glamorous venues. It's obvious he's struggling, as the van he drives he also calls home. When his van breaks down after a gig deep in the countryside, he's found by the very unusual Boris and taken to the equally eccentric Bartel, who owns a rundown inn and offers to put Marc up for the night. Unfortunately getting the car fixed is harder work than might have been expected, and Bartel makes promise after promise with Marc rather marooned at the strange, empty hotel. And of course it transpires that the very lonely Bartel isn't too keen on letting Marc leave at all...
This was an interesting watch, in many respects, because halfway through – when things do take a much darker turn for Marc – I came to realise just how jaded I am with these kind of movies. The lost in the middle of nowhere, captured by a lunatic and subjected to various methods of physical and psychological torture style film. I'm sure you can all think of at least one, if not many more, and a subgenre laden with so many motifs that they have to be done very well to really leap out. This one tries to be more interesting – there are a couple of unsettling scenes featuring some of the villagers, and a couple of really imaginatively shot scenes that threaten to elevate this above the pack. But there's too much we've seen too many times before for this too really be startling or innovative.
It's also fair to say that Marc as a lead never comes across as terribly likeable, which does nothing to enhance the feeling of sympathy towards him. The whole cast of characters, in fact, are pretty hard to care about. The actor behind Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) certainly commits to his role but it feels a bit overdone and generic, a classic 'madman' character with little to pull him apart from the crowd. It's a fair effort on the whole, but ultimately it rarely rises above average.
RATING 5/10. Despite a couple of memorable moments, there's simply too much in Calvaire that is too tired and cliched, and a lot that you will have seen done better elsewhere. It has so many of the old fundamentals – weird abandoned hotel, resident madman, weird villagers – but really doesn't use them to the best effect. As such, it's hard to go overboard. It's not an ordeal, but nor is it an absolute jot to behold. As such, it's a straight down the middle, middle of the road 5/10.
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