Sheitan (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers is invariably assaulted by a moustached Vincent Cassel...
Three French party boys meet up with two girls at a club. One girl is a stranger who invites them to her childhood home way out on the countryside. When they arrive, the city folks get a gander of some of the most bizarre rednecks in France, led by a grinning and ghoulish caretaker named Joseph (Vincent Cassel). As the day turns into night, Joseph begins acting more and more erratically, and his intentions appear more and more sinister.
If the contextless making-of featurette and interview with star Vincent Cassel is to be understood (and I'm not sure I do understand it), Sheitan is what you get when you take a bunch of Dadaist and MTV inspired creative youth, and try to make a horror comedy. Add a mix of Shinya Tsukamoto ( Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and Tobe Hooper to the director's chair, and make sure the nutty cast watched Deliverance, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a documentary about the Manson Family, and you've got a movie. Toss in a career best Vincent Cassel and you might have a worthwhile film, at the very least a unique one.
Sheitan is one of those flicks that you watch, enjoy, find invigorating in parts, but can't quite find the will to recommend wholeheartedly. Fans of plot will find the film maddening, as it seems the script was being written on the fly. Character motivations and story details remain a mystery through the end credits, and the plot itself ends mid arch. If you're the kind of viewer that becomes frustrated when presented with no answers, look elsewhere for your horror entertainment.
On the other hand, if you have it in you to just go with whatever a group of filmmakers are willing to throw at you, Sheitan is utterly breathless at points. The film is frightening and disturbing without hardly any hard-core violence or gore. Things are scariest when they're at their funniest. Though the editing, camera work, and soundtrack are constantly aggressive, the majority of the film's actions are surprisingly low-key. These mixed signals are what give the film its subversive power over a susceptible viewer. If you're willing to let the oddity run you over, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy the film.
There are plenty of missteps throughout, as is to be expected in any experimental film. A few sequence go nowhere, and several character traits and motivations seem forgotten in favour of simply ending it all under 90 minutes. The unexplained finale is probably a bit too much in that it really only answers one of about 30 questions. It's nice to leave the audience asking questions, but in cases like this it just appears that the filmmakers painted themselves into a corner.
But still, taking a tired premise and making it original earns Sheitan a gold star for effort. The acting is all great, especially Cassel, who chews the scenery, camera, crew, cast, and viewer, with his over-the-top, unhinged monster of a performance (or is it two performances?). I don't see myself revisiting the flick any time soon, but it was fun while it lasted.
Towards the beginning of Sheitan, during a brightly lit and coloured rave, the video suffers some pretty obvious digital blocking. The problem gets better as the film progresses, but any time the colours become excited, the print seems to be agitated. The film's more naturally and low lit scenes are pretty crisp, only suffering minor noise. The majority of the film is pretty washed out, and the spooky house interiors almost exclusively tinted brown. This isn't a great transfer, but resides enough above the average.
The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are both pretty awesome. Every song, sound effect, and line of dialogue has been planned out and well mixed. At some points the ambient sound effects, most of which consist of rather abstract humming or buzzing, rival even major studio, big budget releases. The LFE is very, very aggressive, to the point that I had to turn it down, but it almost always remained punchy and taught. The more realistic directional and stereo effects are well executed, and go a long way in thrusting the viewer into the film's mad world.
As stated in my film review, the behind the scenes featurette, running about 30 minutes, does not offer anyone out of 'the know' the proper context to ever really understand what our host Cassel is talking about. We're given a brief history of the production crew behind the film, and their relationship with Cassel, but the pace at which the man talks is so break-neck that I really learned nothing. There are several snippets of shorts the group has made, shorts that would've made a nice inclusion on this disc.
Perhaps a commentary with a modern French film equivalent to Tom Mes or Bey Logan, or at least an interview or text based essay are called for, but alas, this context lacking featurette is our only glimpse into Sheitan's private little Hell. Also included is a spoileriffic trailer, and some other Tartan USA release trailers.
Just so everyone is clear, Cassel's wife, Monica Bellucci is really not in this movie. She has a very brief cameo on a television during a very early scene. I think it's safe to say that Bellucci completests can skip over this one. I'd like to have known more about the story behind the film, as it strikes me as a bit more interesting than the film itself, but Sheitan is worth the recommendation regardless. Not the best film, but rather one of a kind in its own special way, Sheitan doesn't fit into any one genre category.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 26th December 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Extras: The Making of Sheitan, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kim Chapiron
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Olivier Bartélémy, Roxane Mesquida, Nico Le Phat Tan, Leïla Bekhti, Ladj Ly
Genre: Comedy, Horror and Thriller
Length: 94 minutes
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