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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 01.11.09] movie review horror

Year: 2008
Release date: Unknown
Directors: Pieter Van Hees
Writers: Pieter Van Hees, Christophe Dirickx, Dimitri Karakatsanis and Bert Hamelinck
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: cyberhal
Rating: 7.7 out of 10

A dark movie from the dark country of Belgium. Pieter Van Hees's beautifully shot debut feature is a story of horror that draws its power from slow build and unsettling suggestion. You don't get terror or slasher horror FX, but you do get great suspense and a thought provoking story. Think Polanski's Rosemarys Baby. The dark tone of the story is reflected in the atmospheric cinematography, and really hats off to lens man Nicolas Karakatsanis, who was responsible for the equally dark Small Gods which we reviewed back in Spring 2008. Left Bank was premiered in the USA at Fantastic Fest last September.

Marie (Eline Kuppens) is a dedicated track athlete. One day, she suddenly collapses due to an infection in her immune system, and is forced to rest. She meets Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts) , a handsome archer and soon moves into his flat in Left Bank district of the Belgian port town of Antwerp. The Left Bank itself is a district just outside Antwerp where exiles and lepers used to live in medieval times. Life and sex seem good until Marie discovers that the previous tenant of the flat, a woman, has mysteriously disappeared. As Marie explores her environment, she discovers a dark and ancient side to the Left Bank district, and a secret society linked to witchcraft.

The film opens with an intriguing title sequence of an old black and white map of Antwerp to the sound of medieval monks chanting. The map fades into the grey waters of the port of Antwerp. Cut to a dream sequence with Marie descending into the darkness of her building's cellar…she's wearing red. Dreams, darkness and sexuality, straight out of the gate. Great set up. We see the determination of Marie's character as an athlete who wants to win, and the passion that lights up between her and Bobby. Actress Eline Kuppens is a perfect combination of strength and vulnerability. Sex in a forest with Bobby, a picnic on the beach with Antwerp's industrial docks on the skyline, but when she pulls down her white panties to find dark ash staining them, we guess all is not quite right. Later, Marie discovers the existence of a dark pit in the cellar of the tower block where they live, and learns that it's a place connected to medieval sacrifice and female sexuality. Could it be connected to the girl who disappeared?

Van Hees is very good at combining the familiar with the unsettling. We meet Marie's mother who seems the most normal woman in the world. Later, we find that Mum's a clairvoyant. At a certain point, Marie falls and cuts her knee, a ordinary event, but as the story develops, so too does her wound darken, infect and begin to spread. Bobby is President of the local archery society and is charming enough to wipe out the suspicions of Marie's Mum right away. Interestingly, Bobby wears a golden charm around his neck, a dragon devouring its own tail in an eternal circle. I didn't think Schoenaerts performance was as strong as Kuppens, I felt he needed a bigger dose of brooding violence and danger.

Personally, I really enjoyed this film, although some might find it a bit slow. Music and light are used sparingly, a stripped down approach which works very well and adds to the realistic feel. I felt a bit more effort could be put in by the makeup department in terms of developing Marie's not quite gruesome enough wound. Also, I did sort of wonder how she managed to walk around with a big hole in her knee without limping. A review in the Hollywood Reporter said that the film lost the plot and became totally confused towards the end. I completely disagree with this and thought the ending made total sense, although it was pretty surprising. To me it was all about pagan rites and rebirth, the way that ancient rites can still exist in the modern world, even in a concrete tower block.

Pieter Van Hees's next flick is a comedy action, Dirty Mind, which comes out on 28 January 2009 and we'll be bringing you a review soon as we've already got our copy.

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quietearth (13 years ago) Reply

I'd give this a 6. The beginning was great, the second half aimless, and the ending fantastic.


Cyberhal (13 years ago) Reply

I don't know, I was down with pagan rebirth in the basement


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Sorry guys, but I'm with the Hollywood Reporter - in the end, Hella is having a baby ..... and the baby is Marie ???
I'm confused !!!

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