Friday, February 26, 2010

Vinyan (2008, directed by Fabrice Du Welz)

There was a time in the late seventies and early eighties during which jungle horror flicks were all the rage. Most of those were cannibal films though. Of course, Cannibal Holocaust was released during that period of time, as was Cannibal Ferox. The larger percentage of those films came out of Europe, mainly Italy.

So it's interesting to see a new jungle horror film come out of Europe again. It's not Italy this time though, it's France, which has really been establishing a strong horror tradition over the last few years. The "French New Wave Horror" is a phrase people who follow the horror genre have gotten used to seeing and hearing. If you're a horror fan, and you've been missing out on what the French have been doing for the last five or so years, you owe it to yourself to catch up.

Vinyan strays somewhat from the formula we have come to expect from this new wave of French horror films. It's not a gorefest, and there's very little violence. So, if you've been skipping the latest crop of French horror films because they are too violent and bloody, this might be better for you.

What I can't tell you is that less violence or less blood make this film any less disturbing. It's not going to make you squirm in disgust the way something like Inside or Martyrs did, but it is disturbing all the same.

It's about a couple who lost their son in the tsunami in Asia, six months prior to when the film begins. Visiting the home of a friend who is holding a fund raiser for some kind of aid foundation or charity (it's not completely clear what they do, but it's not all that important either), they're shown a video of an area in Burma which was hard hit by the tsunami. During the video, Emanuelle Beart's character, Jeanne, is convinced she sees their son walking away from the camera in the background of one of the shots. Though not completely sure his wife isn't losing her mind, Rufus Sewell's character, her husband Paul, agrees to go and look for their son.

To get to Burma from Thailand where they live, they unfortunately have to employ the aid of human traffickers. This makes for an extremely uncomfortable situation. And off they head from Thailand to the jungles of Burma, looking for a child who may or may not be alive.

Rufus Sewell gives a great performance here. As a husband, not sure of his wife's continued sanity, and at the same time, hoping beyond reason that maybe she might be right and he might find his son, there are some really heartbreaking and hard to watch scenes of him just trying, begging his wife to see reality or just trying to decide what to do. Sewell seems to only end up with roles as villains in the States, but he proves here, beyond the shadow of any doubt that he could be a leading man and carry a film on his own.

Emanuelle Beart, is also amazing here. I never doubted for one second that she actually believed her son was  alive. It wasn't a matter of being dishonest with herself about the possibilities, but an absolute certainty that he was alive. Whether or not she is losing her grip on reality, you'll have to watch and decide for yourself, but there isn't a false moment in her performance.

If you don't believe that relationship, and the dynamic between these two people, the film goes nowhere, is terribly boring and doesn't matter to you at all. Luckily for Fabrice Du Welz, you do believe it, every step of the way. Du Welz does a really great job of establishing the mood around these characters, which creates something interesting. At the center, there's this story which is really about these two people, who have lost a child, are trying to cope with it and do what they think is right, and hold on to each other. But, because of everything the story and the director surrounds them with, it becomes something very different from the films we've seen before that follow a very similar storyline. From the opening credit sequence  Du Welz establishes an unusual, creepy, alien kind of feel, that follows these two characters throughout the film. There's some really interesting cinematography here, interesting use of color and deep darks against bright lights. Filming on location in Thailand also helps to make this film really live. There are some sequences in the beginning of the film which couldn't work if they'd been using a European city as a double for Thailand, and sets would have just looked ridiculous. And the jungle photography is gorgeous. I don't care how strange and weird or unusual this film portrays the events in the jungle. I still want to go to the jungle to see anything as incredibly beautiful as the location looks here.

Vinyan is an interesting film. It starts out as what seems to be an interesting, intelligent thriller. It's well written, it's characters are well drawn and feel very real and you are interested in and want to follow them. Then, it turns into something else along the way, which I found equally interesting. I have no doubt there are folks out there who would not find this enjoyable. They feel cheated when films take a hard turn the way this one does. I've seen it done poorly in some films, but here it's done well and it changes the tone of the film, but it cuts even more directly to what's at the heart of the film, these two people, trying to understand how to deal with the pain of having lost a child. What it becomes is surreal and hallucinatory in an interesting way. The symbolism is probably a little thick for mainstream American audiences, but I think there's a part of the genre/horror community who would enjoy the kind of uncomfortable, unsettled feeling it produces, even if some of the symbolism escapes them. I have a feeling some of it escaped me, but I still enjoyed it.

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