DIRECTED BY: Kim Chapiron
PLOT: Four young people agree to spend Christmas at the country home of a beautiful stranger they meet at a Paris club, but the oddball caretaker takes an intense and unhealthy interest in one of the crew.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The adjective “weird” pops up a couple of times in reviews describing Sheitan, but we suspect that the misusage must be due to a lack of exposure to the truly bizarre stuff. Up until Sheitan‘s final act, there’s little—other than Vincent Cassel’s oddball performance—to suggest this French slasher lies very far outside of the normal range of teens-in-a-cabin horror. Unusual direction and a strange finish nudge Sheitan just barely into the weird column, but not enough to compete with the big weird boys.
COMMENTS: Honestly, despite a gonzo performance by an uncomfortably peppy Vincent Cassel, a steamy male-male-female threesome, and a startling final image, the thing that sticks with me most about Sheitan is how hateful its protagonists are. The movie starts with the fours youngsters at Club Styx, where the most emblematically despicable of the lot, Bart, is chilling out with drunken resentment. He finally works up the courage to make a clumsy pass at an understandably disinterested chick, then starts verbally abusing her when she rejects him. He sucker punches a Prince Charming who steps in to defend the innocent girl’s honor, spits in a bouncer’s face, and gets a well-deserved bottle upside his head. This, ladies and gentlemen, is our antihero, and he doesn’t get much more pleasant from here on out. He dreams about taking advantage of a female friend while she sleeps, kicks a goat, and blames everyone around him for all the bad karma he brings on himself. Although his buddies are shallow, sex-obsessed petty thieves, their worst quality is that they willingly remain friends with Bart. Bart is so abhorrent that when the clearly deranged groundskeeper Joseph (Cassel) of the house at which the gang has decided to spend Christmas Eve immediately emerges as Bart’s nemesis, we enjoy it. The perpetually grinning Joseph (Cassel’s jaw must have hurt like hell when he left the set each night) makes ambiguously homosexual suggestions to Bart, while at the same time constantly forgetting the boy’s name. The annoyance Joseph breeds in le bagge de douche whets our appetite to see these kids finally get bumped off in grisly ways (but warning: the obnoxious cast survives for far too long). There’s no doubt that this reversal of our expected sympathies is deliberate, or that it has the disquieting effect of tempting us to root for the “evil” character. As an experiment playing with the audience’s feelings and expectations, Sheitan is successful; that does not, however, make it pleasant watching these nitwits. There is symbolism along the way: religion, from the Garden of Eden to the birth of Christ, is referenced frequently and sometimes cleverly. And the fact that each of the feral French twentysomethings is from a different ethnic background—an African, an Arab, an Asian and a native Gaul—seems somehow significant. On the movie’s plus ledger, Cassel is possessed and magnetic, Mesquida is a sexy revelation, and the hallucinatory ending leaves us with some lingeringly sick imagery. Still, the thing I will remember about the movie is it’s painful vision of odious, amoral youth with horrible taste in music. This movie really hates young people, which is cool and all—hey, we all want those damn kids to stay off our lawns—but Sheitan goes just a little too far.
Sheitan is sometimes considered part of the “New French Extremity” genre of transgressive horror, along with movies like Marina de Van‘s self-mutilation feature In My Skin (2002), Alexandre Aja’s ultraviolent slasher Haute Tension (2003), and others. It’s Deliverance-style urbanites-at-the-mercy-of-peasants theme is reminiscent of the similarly unpleasant but far weirder NFE feature Calvaire (2004). Ultimately, Sheitan isn’t very “extreme”—you will see more blood in any typical Hollywood horror—but it shares the genre’s queasy pessimism about human nature.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by Irene. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)