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I have a confession to make: I don’t see enough foreign films, not nearly enough actually. But a few days ago a DVD dropped though my letterbox that convinced me I should change that policy. Firstly, I will say that this is a French language film with no English dub present on the disc, but those who hate reading subtitles and who might be deterred by this prospect may want to stick around for a while longer. And here’s why: I am going to give you some reasons that I think you should sit though this film, and it might just be worth your while.

The Ordeal
Personally, I greatly prefer reading the subtitles than listening to a bunch of god-awful, cheesy-sounding actors attempting to fold drama into their non-physical roles. Don’t get me wrong, not all dubs are bad, but I cannot remember the last time I was impressed by one. Usually I find that dubs spoil the film, and even distract from the central story. It also dirties the original actors’ performance, at least in the opinion of this critic.

Anyway, The Ordeal is essentially a horror film that is partly based in some woods and other general rural areas of Belgium. No, this is not a run-of-the-mill teen slasher flick we’ve seen a thousand times before, but a much more sophisticated and raw drama that will both shock and horrify you in equal measure. It is centered around a singer who breaks down in a remote area on his way to a Christmas gig. Unluckily for him, he stumbles upon a cottage whose owner is anything but moral. At first it seem the cottage owner is just a saddened old man with his own problems, but it soon emerges that the pain his wife caused him when she left is about to explode. And who should bear the brunt, but the hapless singer who is slowly and painfully subjected to cruel torture. Think Misery with a twist of Saw, and you should be able to picture exactly what The Ordeal is like.

The film is made all the more horrific due to its stellar acting ensemble, who truly give it their all. The production design and cinematography is also impressive, effortlessly capturing all the grittiness of the story, with excellent uses of washed out tones and plentiful quantities of image noise. But the hats off has to go to Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz who also co-wrote the screenplay with Romain Protat. His direction is as solid as it gets.

The Ordeal (otherwise known as Calvaire in Belgium) is an interesting and thoroughly gripping film. Its clever mesh of straight, no-nonsense horror and brutality is underpinned with enough drama and emotional weight to see it though to the end without a single trace of sentimentality in sight. The Ordeal’s darkness and grittiness might not be suitable for all, but those who enjoyed psychological thrillers such as the aforementioned Saw should find plenty to enjoy here too.

The Ordeal
As mentioned in the above section, the transfer here is both dark and noise-filled. It suits the film perfectly, giving it a sense of foreboding that it wouldn’t have otherwise had. But the image is also quite muddy and unfocussed. I cannot be quite sure whether the noise was intentionally increased for the purposes of the film, or whether it was purely accidental. Either way, the image looks good but not great. Darker tones are handled reasonably well, but perhaps not well enough for all those dimly lit scenes of torture near the end.

There are quite a number of audio options present on the disc, though as I mentioned earlier, there is no English dub available. First of all, you have the option of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS in 5.1. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 option as well. The audio in general sounds good, but this isn’t exactly a film that is going to push the boundaries of what multi-channel sound is capable of. Directional audio hardly ever gets a chance to shine, nor does the sub, but dialogue is sharp and well balanced, which is all you really need for a film like this.

There are a small handful of special features on the disc that might interest you, but this is unfortunately a DVD with little to offer in this department, at least in terms of quantity and quality. There is a short film entitled A Wonderful Love, which clocks in at around twenty minutes and isn’t bad, but isn’t that good either. Like the main feature, A Wonderful Love is a dark, dingy and often harsh look into the mind of madness. The film seems perfectly suited to the nature of the main feature, and is the best feature on the disc overall. There is a rather meaty twenty five minute interview with the film’s director (which proves quite insightful) and a trailer that rounds out the disc.

The Ordeal
The Ordeal is a good, if not great film from an up-and-coming new director who has great promise for the future. And while it is not going to be for everyone, it will suit those who like gore and brutality just fine. The story is strong, the acting is often powerful, and its harshness is almost up there with some of Hollywood’s most disturbing. The DVD is also reasonably good overall, with decent video and audio aspects. Feature-wise the disc is lacking somewhat, but the short film and director’s interview are entertaining nonetheless. So non-dub viewer, are you convinced yet? If you are not, then sadly you may miss out on a truly good film, and if you don’t mind reading subtitles, you’re in for a real treat.