Thanks to Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz, you can pretty much cross the High Fens natural reserve in Liege off your bucket list of places to visit. When I think about tonight's review ...also known as The Ordeal (2004), and rightfully so, as Du Welz has concocted a bizarre mix of beautiful cinematography and gripping psychological terror, the madness of love, and dreary, ominous isolation that makes for a pretty wild ride, while tapping into earlier films like Psycho (1960), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Deliverance (1972), and Misery (1990). If those titles don't paint a vivid enough picture of what kind of lunacy you're in for here, it's outta my hands, folks. I've done all I can...
"Dominique, nique, nique, s'en allait tout simplement...c'mon, ev'rybuddy!"
After cabaret singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) speeds away in his personalized van from his last successful gig belting out mundane love songs (in a personalized cape, mind you) to horny Belgian grannies (and smitten nurses who Polaroid him their boobs) in a backwater convalescent home, he breaks down during a sleet storm in the dark and desolate wilderness of Liege, bumping into a disheveled-looking chap named Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard) who's been searching for his dog, Bella, in the elements, and who points him towards the empty local inn, where an quirky little fellow named Paul Bartel (Ha! ...as played by Jackie Berroyer) sets him up with a bed and breakfast, on the odd promise that he does not go near the village. While out on a nature walk, he does just that, spying a horrific gaggle of crummy-looking mutant locals as they take turns making love to a pig in a nearby barn. Bartel promises that his van will be repaired by morning, and the men trade a joke for a song after dinner, amid melancholy vibes over Bartel's wife, Gloria, who apparently broke camp ages ago.
"Check your pay envelope, I put Polaroids of my boobs in there.", notes Mademoiselle Vicky (Brigitte Lahaie).
The next morning, things have gone from disadvantageous to deplorable. Marc's van looks to have been broken into and rummaged through, the only phone has been disconnected, Bartel is nowhere to be found, and the small closet in his room is now filled with women's dresses. He then notices an angry Bartel outside smashing the fuck out of his vehicle with a sledgehammer, and runs down to try and reason with him, only to get brained with the detached battery. Bartel sets the van on fire and drags the unconscious lounge singer off. When he finally comes to, he's wearing a dress, tied to a chair, and getting his injured, bleeding head shaved by the innkeeper, who seems to have convinced himself that the man is his wife, returned to him. When Marc tries to escape, Boris returns him to Bartel's tractor (which is spotted by some of the locals on a trapping run), and later crucifies him (!) to some support beams in the barn. From here, the situation only turns more distressing by the sickening minute.
"If you don't pay attention to my footwork, you'll never be able to do the 'Tor Johnson' ...You've got it all wrong. Sway left, then right, then left, then right, then..."
Du Welz followed this effort up with Vinyan (2008), Alleluia (2014), and Colt 45 (2014), all of which are on my "to watch" list, for sure. Phillipe Nahon you'll probably remember from things like Haute Tension (2003), and Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (2002), as well as Seul contre tous/ I Stand Alone (1998). Brigitte Lahaie, as most of you should well know by now, was one of France's premier pornographic exports in the late seventies. I found this one as deliriously demented and rotten as any grindhouse flick from the seventies, though beautifully framed with a decidedly arthouse lens, lending a surreal feel to the unpleasant proceedings which might be a cultural curveball to mainstream genre fans. On the scale, Calvaire shuffles about to the tune of three Wops, a must-taste for discerning Euro-horror palates out there.
"Okay, well, since you put it that way...", shrugs Shotgun-face (Laurent Lucas).