Pascal Laugier, France, 2008, 97 min.

France has let loose some excellent horror films in the past decade. Last year’s Martyrs, by Pascal Laugier, was said to be the cream of the crop. The story follows Lucie, who as a girl was held captive and beaten and tortured mercilessly for years. She finally escapes, but her captors and their motives were never discovered.

Years later, maladjusted and psychologically damaged, Lucie stumbles upon the husband and wife who did this to her. Her friend Anna is not so sure they are the culprits and tries to stop her from doing anything rash. But it happens too quickly. Lucie’s revenge is swift (It happens in the first 15 minutes), and the film changes direction after that.

That’s the issue with the film, though. The plot turns too many times. The narrative stops following Lucie and centers on her friend Anna. The truth about the captivity is discovered and Anna is put in danger. The film takes a very serious turn and the plot shifts again to a story with philosophic/religious overtones.

The film does a few things well. It’s slick, brutal and disturbing. The direction is solid and the acting (screaming crying terrified acting), is spot-on. The film manages to scare and shock without resorting to spring-loaded cats. It’s just that the story takes too many turns, has too many holes, and has the characters making too many stupid decisions. Normally, that doesn’t matter in a film like this, but the story and tone become so serious that the faults are forced to be even more apparent.

The conflict between disturbing late-night horror, and meaningful philosophy never gels. I would rather take the former than the latter. But we aren’t given a choice and the results are obviously mixed.

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