This review of Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan is part of the New French Extremity Retrospective series.
The abrupt open to Sheitan is an utter delight. The first image is a closeup on a man’s shocked face. He asks if we’re ready. There is indistinct noise, perhaps in protest, from outside of the frame. He asks again. Then, he begins scratching a turntable, and we are introduced to a rowdy night club that presents us with the energy of the film. Text appears on the screen that reads: “Do not forgive them, for they know what they do.”
In this night club are three men who are quickly thrown out for one of their transgressions against patrons. The transgressor, Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), has some issues with anger and sexual aggression toward women (and apparently bad breath).
Before being kicked out, however, they meet Eve (Roxane Mesquida), who invites the three men and Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) to her eccentric home in the country, which is filled with doll constructions.
The housekeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel) is also eccentric. He plays the role with a constant oblivious grin plastered on his face. His teeth are always showing. His giddy attention to his new guests is played with a humorous vigor. But the actions of him and other folks in the village are also off-putting, socially abnormal if not outright unsettling.
Of course, it does not take long for the ambiguous strangeness to become wholly disturbing.
The film is shot similarly unsettling. Closeups and reframing distort and highlight the least attractive of a given moment. A scene at a dinner table focuses on the grease on people’s mouths as they chew, cutting rapidly between them. A scene with the character’s bathing in a hot spring focuses on closeups of unnatural hilarity on the faces of the people rough-housing.
Like Calvaire, this French horror film feels like a spiritual successor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unlike Calvaire, however, this film feels more traditionally horror in style and substance. The use of wide-angle lenses to distort and evoke queasiness. The adolescent sexuality and over-abundance of the male gaze, which is later manipulated. The presence of something lurking just around the corner.
As disturbing as some of the content here is, there is something undeniably comical in the presence of the film’s main antagonist. Perhaps playing on the convention of the undying slasher villain, the character’s continued, unrelenting, and manic attempts are increasingly hilarious as the climax progresses.
Whether the film intends this dark comedy is hard to say. The characterization upfront would suggest it, but the extreme to which the climax goes to deliver on its final image suggests something more than merely a horror comedy approach.
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)