Before I sat down to watch the 2006 French horror film Sheitan, I was told that it was really good. However, I was given a caveat. This horror film is not nearly as extreme as other recent French offerings like Inside or Martyrs. All right, that was a little disappointing as I have become accustomed to these intense French horror experiences. I was then told, by the same person, that despite it being less graphic, it does have a feel reminiscent of Frontier(s). All right, that's something I can work with.
Sheitan begins innocently enough. A few friends are out at the club. The three are having a good time drinking, trying to dance with the ladies, and generally acting the fool. One of them, Thai, goes over to the bar where a lady friend is tending and tries to hit on one of her attractive acquaintances. Meanwhile, the goofball of the bunch, Bart, gets a little too aggressive in his pursuit of a lady on the dance floor and ends up in fight. As you might expect, our goof ends battered, bloodied, and tossed out of the club.
Figuring it is time to leave, but with no one really wanting to go home, the group takes up the offer of their newfound friend, the lovely Eve (Roxane Mesquida), to go to her home in the country. Off they go on the long drive out of Paris into the country. Not just any country, but out in the middle of nowhere kind of country where your house is looked over by a wild-eyed guy named Joseph (Vincent Cassell) and where your house is strewn with doll parts inside and wandering goats outside.
Now, this is where the horror fan watching the movie can see, hear, and feel the alarms going off. For me, the voice was screaming inside my skull. Don't trust her. Don't trust him. Does anyone else see something wrong here? Take a look around, there is nothing else for miles around. Did you see what is in his house? This not normal. Get out. Run. Go back to Paris. GO NOW!
Unfortunately, unlike me, these characters do not realize they are in a horror movie. They see this invite as a way to keep on partying and perhaps have some fun with the lovely ladies who accompany them. I cannot say I blame them. It is easy to watch from the outside as the strangeness begins to slowly creep in and see that things are not right and know that something bad is about to happen. These guys are blinded by the possibility of some fun.
Still, you would think that wild-eyed and crazy Joseph would be a big hint to leave. These guys just sort of write him off as a local loon. I guess that is sort of understandable; they don't have any real reason to think that something really bad is about to happen.
Sheitan has three distinct portions. First we have the guys at the club and all that happens there. The second stage finds them looking to continue the fun out in the country. There is the usual awkwardness as they adjust to the new locale combined with Bart's general social ineptitude. Through this stage of the game there are some hints of future issues — Joseph's odd behavior, the appearance of some local bullies, and the doll parts all over the house.
Third act sees all hell break loose as true motives are revealed and our friends discover that they really are in danger. It may not be a bloody hell, but it is certainly unsettling and highly effective.
The cast is quite good all around. In particular we have Vincent Cassell who is a fine actor doing his best to act weird, crazy, and slightly dangerous without actually being any of those things. Well, at least until the time is right. Roxane Mesquida does a fine job of being the alluring and slightly dangerous girl who will catch your eye and who you'll gladly follow into the mouth of hell. The third key component is Olivier Barthelemy as Bart. This guy is a goon and he plays it to the hilt. Much of the story seems to revolve around him. He is the sort of character you want to dislike but he is so pitiable that you can't help but get involved.
Kim Chapiron was in the director's chair for the film and does a fine job of luring you in, building tension, and springing the bear trap on your head. It will be interesting to see where future projects take us. This film shows a skill for giving us character and tension in equal measure and showing that you do not need a bucket of blood to make effective horror (although I will not be disappointed if there is blood).
Audio/Video. The technical side of the disk is fine. It is not the greatest looking disk, but it is effective in getting the idea across. The anamorphic widescreen is clear, although not without noticeable grain. Detail is generally good, but I have seen sharper. The color palette is on the washed out side, but the country does not help matters with the predominance of browns.
Audio is solid. Dolby Digital 5.1 French track does the job. Dialogue is clear, crisp, and easy to understand. Nothing to really complain about as it does its job while not distinguishing itself.
- The Making of Sheitan. Twenty-three minute video on the making of the film. We get some interview and behind the scenes footage, but it is not terribly involving.
- Original Trailer. Effectively gives you an idea of what to expect.
- Tartan New Releases. Trailers for H6, Red Shoes, The Maid, Marebito.
Bottom line. No, not as graphic as other recent French horror offerings, but it is a nicely unsettling descent into hell that feels a mere step or two removed from reality. It is this reality that really sells it and ultimately gets you. This is a film to see.