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A few days before Christmas, traveling entertainer Marc Stevens is stuck at nightfall in a remote wood in the swampy Hautes Fagnes region of Liège, his van conked out. An odd chap who's looking for a lost dog leads Marc to a shuttered inn; the owner gives Marc a room for the night. Next day, the innkeeper, Mr. Bartel, promises to fix the van, demands that Marc not visit the nearby village, and goes through Marc's things while the entertainer takes a walk. At dinner that night, Bartel laments his wife's having left him, and by next day, Marc is in a nightmare that may not end.
In my humble opinion, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror movies of our time, hands down. Tobe Hooper may not have an impressive track-record when it comes to horror, but he sure struck gold when he decided to tell the tale of what happened to a couple of teens who wound up in a very hellish part of Texas. Deliverance, while not necessarily a horror flick, also did a great job of showing the horrors one could face in an unfriendly neck of the woods. The thing that made both of these films work so wonderfully was the realism that they portrayed; the antagonists weren't demons or mindless serial killers, but instead, they were simply normal people who had a taste for carnage. Tonight's film, Calvaire, could be thought of as a combination between these two films in both style and storyline - sadly, it doesn't live up to the goodness of either.
Review by Chad
Added: November 08, 2006
Now, I should preface this synopsis with a bit of a warning, that being that unless I choose to spoil the entire movie, it'll sound like just another horror flick with nothing too terribly original going for it. There are some interesting events to be found throughout the running time and it does take a turn towards the bizarre once the storyline picks up, so keep in mind that this one winds up being a wee bit different than the description would let on. So then, what's all this "Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Deliverance" talk about?
Our storyline focuses on one Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas), a singer who is traveling to another city in an attempt to finally hit it big in the music scene. Along the way, his van breaks down, and since this is a horror movie, it just had to break down in the middle of the woods with no sign of civilization for miles. Well, no sign of civilization except for that foreboding inn up ahead that seems strangely empty.
Empty, that is, with the exception of owner Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), an older gentleman who seems nice enough at first. He eagerly offers Marc a room, fixes his meals for him, sits around the fireplace and chats with him, and even offers to repair his van free of charge. A true slice of Belgium down-home hospitality, it seems - that is, until Bartel figures out that Marc is actually his cheating wife who has come home to him. Needless to say, Marc disagrees with this assertion and attempts to leave, but Bartel will have none of that. What follows is about a half hour of torture, sodomy, forced cross-dressing, and pure and utter humiliation as Bartel attempts to keep his "wife" from leaving him again.
Some of the details have changed, but at its core, Calvaire is a tale that has been told many times over: a person (or people) meets up with a stranger (or strangers) in the middle of nowhere, said strangers aren't exactly what they seem, bad things happen, hero attempts to escape. I can forgive that, since there's really not a whole lot of truly original ideas left to be found in the world of horror. However, said "reinterpretation" really needs to bring something worthwhile to the table; otherwise, why not just pick up whichever movie(s) inspired it and save your time? That's the problem with this movie: while there are some new ideas and interesting angles, there just isn't enough meat to keep it going throughout the full length of the running time.
One of the interesting angles that I mentioned is the way that the characters are portrayed. Normally, the director wants you to identify with the "good guy" (aka, the guy who happens to be in a world of shit) while making the "bad guy" seem reckless and insane. That's not necessarily the case here, as the audience will easily connect with Bartel while finding that Marc is hard to connect with. Rob Zombie used this angle in The Devil's Rejects with great success, and Fabrice Du Welz used it just as effectively here.
However, the rest of the film just doesn't work out as good as I had hoped. There are some interesting scenes, but for the most part, the movie just goes nowhere. The first half of the movie consists of nothing more than the two characters talking to one another, and while I realize that some character development is required, there was simply too much here. The actors are quite talented, don't get me wrong, but there are very few people working today that can sit around and talk for forty-five minutes without causing me to want to hit the fast-forward button.
There is some graphic material here once the action picks up, but the vast majority of it was much too tame for my liking. Now, understand that I don't require massive amounts of bloodshed and limbs being severed to enjoy a movie. The problem is that, save for two or three brief moments, the extent of his "torture" consists of Marc sitting in a chair, dressed up in a woman's summer-dress while bawling his eyes out. Again, I don't require graphic violence along the lines of a Miike film, but there are plenty of men in this world who enjoy dressing up in women's clothes: you expect me to buy that this is pure and utter hell for this guy? I won't even get into the ending, which consists of a "twist" that attempts to be artsy and shocking, but instead comes across as an unbelievable moment inserted merely to end things with a twist. It makes no sense, there is no logic behind it, and as soon as we see it, we fade into the credits with no sort of explanation.
I seem to be in the minority here considering that there are dozens of glowing reviews for this movie floating around, but I simply didn't enjoy this. There's a few interesting scenes and I liked some of the ideas that were presented, but overall, this just didn't do anything for me. 4/10.
- added 11/08/2006, 09:14 PM
I really enjoyed this movie. I thought the
atmosphere was great. And I think it's a very
effective horror movie. Just place yourself in
Marc's position. It's frightening, there's no one
to turn to. Everyone in the whole village is
seriously fucked in the head. The sequence in
which Marc, Bartel, and the werid guy that finally
finds Bella are at the table and the camera just
keeps going in circles seriously messes with your
head. And the scene at the bar....holy shit! I
loved the creepiness of the whole thing. The
paino playing, the men "dancing", everything about
the scene is just beautifully disturbing. The
ending was strange but I don't think it's a
"twist" in the common sense. It's
just...strange. I dunno, i just really liked the
movie. I'd give it a 8/10.
- added 11/09/2006, 02:45 AM
Both of those scenes (the camera spinning at the
table and the barroom dancing) were quite good,
and honestly, they helped bump the rating up a bit
by themselves. If this was any indication of his
talents, Fabrice Du Welz has a good eye for how to
make an effective scene, but in my personal
opinion, the storyline just didn't hold up.
The reason that I
say the ending is a twist is because this villager
had just raped Marc and planned to hold him
captive just like Bartel had. Then, when Marc
escaped, this villager rounded up a posse of
similarly-crazed villagers to find and kill him.
Is that the sort of guy you'd either feel empathy
for or side with after everything that had
happened? When Marc told him "I love you too",
that was either one or the other (depending on how
you took it - was he just saying it, or did he
really mean it?), and it just didn't work for
- added 11/09/2006, 10:59 AM
Yeah I know what you mean. I expected more of an
ending myself and I wished there was more to it
than what it was. It would of helped the movie a
lot. But overall, I just really liked the film.
- added 09/04/2008, 10:23 PM
I'm really disappointed with this one. It started
off so well, and could have been a great movie.
Why it completely fell apart in the last 30
minutes is beyond me, but it's a shame...it was
really creepy and disturbing for the first little