malefique | eric valette | alexandre charlot | franck magnier | gerald laroche | philippe laudenbach | clovis cornillac | ritual | cult | body horror | fantasy | mystery | france | dimitri rataud | didier benureau | felicia massoni | geoffrey carey | prison
Director: Eric Valette
Writer: Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier
Starring: Gérald Laroche, Philippe Laudenbach and Clovis Cornillac
This was a movie I will be honest, I never heard of until I saw the list of movies for the Summer Challenge Series for the Podcast Under the Stairs’ 2000 edition. This was one that I was intrigued to see when I heard the episode and it took me some time to find a copy of it. Aside from that though, I came in pretty blind. The synopsis is four prisoners find an ancient diary in the wall of their cell which might be the key to getting out.
We start this movie off with someone we will learn later is named Charles Danvers (Geoffrey Carey). There is a man bleeding on the ground next to him. Charles has a book and he’s chanting in another language. He is also drawing symbols on the wall of stone. They glow and we shift away.
This takes us to Carrère (Gérald Laroche). He’s in prison and is talking to his wife, Claire (Félicia Massoni) and his son Hugo (Paul-Alexandre Bardela). Carrère believes that he will be getting out soon enough. He just needs his wife to post the bail. He promises his son that he will be out for his birthday and if not, he will escape. His son then gives him an action figure he has to bring back when he is released.
The movie then shifts us to where we are going to be spending pretty much the rest of this movie. Carrère is rooming with Lassalle (Philippe Laudenbach), Marcus (Clovis Cornillac) and Pâquerette (Dimitri Rataud). The first images in here we see Marcus chopping off the end of one of Pâquerette’s fingers to go to the infirmary. They consider this a ‘vacation’. This isn’t the first time it happens either. Marcus is working out to get stronger and also has breasts as well as wears a wing. He wants to be a woman, but he might not be brave enough to go full as he still has his penis from what I gather. Lassalle is a former college professor who murdered his wife in a state of dementia.
The three of them create an uneasy bond. They share food and homemade wine. We see that Pâquerette is mentally handicapped and eats things he shouldn’t. Carrère hangs a picture of his family and we see cockroaches roaming the room at night. One goes behind his picture, causing it to fall. Marcus and Pâquerette get into a tussle and he’s thrown against wall, knocking a brick loose. Inside they find the diary of Charles Danvers.
This fascinates Carrère as he tries to make sense of it. Things all change when Pâquerette believes magic can be done from it when Carrère says something in regards to it. The simpler minded prisoner draws the symbols on the floor and Carrère reads from the book. It creates fire. Lassalle knows more than he’s letting on and Marcus wants the book to be left alone. He becomes irate when Pâquerette loses all his fingers in the night when Lassalle breaks his vow and reads from the book. Is it holding the key to their freedom and salvation or something much more sinister?
Now as I’ve already said, I didn’t know a lot coming into this movie aside from that podcast episode. What is interesting is that this came out during a time when I was out of new horror aside from what was going to theaters in the United States. I hadn’t ventured much into the foreign ones as of yet. This one does hit some sweet spots for me with magic, a cursed book and a contained setting.
I want to start with the cursed book idea. We get this interesting cold open that correlates back into things in the end. The more we learn about Danvers, the scarier this opening scene becomes for me. The idea of this cursed book that allows its users to perform magic is cool. To give just a bit more into what I mean, Danvers was a murderer who was terrified of getting old. He was locked up back in the early 1920s for using placenta to try to make himself younger. Before getting locked up, he was versed in the dark arts and that is what he records in this book.
Taking this farther though, the book changes as they start to use it and that becomes something that pulls me in. They think it can help them to escape as that is what the common belief that Danvers used it. The truth is much darker as this book gives you your true desire, but in a ‘be careful what you wish for type of way’. Seeing what it does to these guys as they use it is creepy. The effects are good as well as this goes into body horror as it progresses.
Since I’ve shifted to it, let me go over the effects and how this is shot. We get some great practical effects from someone who is folded up and their bones break. Cutting off of fingers and cuts into people’s skin as this goes. I didn’t really notice any CGI aside from lights used and I cringed a few times. If you can do that, you got me in. I also like that a camera is introduced for a creepy scene and I like that not everything they see is real as well. That is couple with really good cinematography.
Another aspect I brought up, but didn’t delve into was the setting. I love contained horror films with a small cast. We really are working with 3 characters for the most part with a few more to develop the story and raise the stakes. Being that they are in a cell where they can’t get out makes it even better when things get crazy. I really dug what they did with that for sure.
Speaking of the characters, I think the acting is good. I like that Laroche is quiet and that he had a good upbringing. He decided to break the law as he saw what hard work did to his parents. He would rather take shortcuts to get what he can and enjoy life. He sees it more as a sprint than a marathon. There’s a dimension added though with his son Hugo. Laudenbach is also good as this character that is harboring a dark secret and that he really just has a thirst for all of the knowledge, something that I believe contributed to what he did to his wife as well as his downfall that he can’t have it. Cronillac is interesting that he’s a strong guy, but wants to be a woman. He won’t go the full way and it seems he loves the control of this cell he has. The rest of the cast really do round this out for what is needed as well.
Now with that said, I thought this movie was really good and I’m glad that I got the chance to see it. It falls in that camp that I didn’t know it existed and that I needed to see it for sure. I really like some of the story elements along with the contained feel of the cell they are in. The acting really helps from the 3 stars and the rest of the cast in support. The effects and how things were shot were good in my opinion. The soundtrack didn’t necessarily stand out, but it fit the movie for what was needed. I’d rate this as a good movie and one that I will come back to revisit for sure.
My Rating: 8 out of 10