Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Stars: Emmanuelle Beart, Rufus Sewell
Paula Hamilton soaks up the culture in Burma
I was, however, a ma-hussive fan of Fabrice’s debut, Calvaire. In fact, I believe that Calvaire is one of the greatest horror films of the century and it’s such a shame that people inappropriately write it off as some sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Straw Dogs rip-off. Thanks to the anticipation for Fabrice’s latest venture into horror, Alleluia (a thematic sequel to Calvaire) I thought I’d give Vinyan another try as it had been a few years since I last saw it. This time, I saw something different in it.
Vinyan is a real mood piece. It reminded me of Only God Forgives and Under the Skin, the types of slow dream-like films which rely more on atmosphere than plot. They’re not for everyone, but if you manage to find a dark room on your own and immerse yourself in their worlds, then you can discover an experience which is really quite special.
The opening to Vinyan is fantastic. We see a tsunami from the sea’s point of view, so gradually muffled screams become more intense as the water turns redder and redder. It’s an unsettling sequence and the sounds become quite intense before cutting off to silence. Suddenly we meet Emmanuelle Beart with her Paula Hamilton upper-lip emerging from some tropical sea. We find out that Emmanuelle and Rufus have lost their son, presumed dead, but Emmanuelle’s sure that she saw him on a blurred tsunami-aid video. This is only the beginning of a long and strange voyage into darkness.
Fabrice really shows off his directing skills here. There’s a fantastic disorientating experience near the start where Emmanuelle runs off from Rufus at night in the heart of Thailand and the camera follows her around amongst the bright neon-soaked night whilst music plays so loud you can barely hear yourself think. It’s a great sequence which really emphasises the isolation felt by the character. In fact, we spend quite a lot of time in our heroine’s head (I think). Whereas Calvaire remained objective and real (there was no music in The Ordeal) Vinyan delves into Jeanne’s unstable head, often blurring dreams with reality in bizarre and unsettling ways. For example, there’s one shot of a boat appearing from the fog with silhouetted children on it (see pic above). The image is so dreamy that it has to be a dream, or is it?
Watching Vinyan a second time, I was never bored at all! I noticed how fantastic the acting is and really empathised with the bereaved main characters who are just so desperate to find their son. The atmosphere is so thick throughout, and Fabrice’s choice of music and sounds adds to the nightmarish quality. The film looks sensational too. You could pretty much take any shot of the film and marvel at it. One stand-out moment is the aerial shot which follows the couple into some sort of ruin. There’s a real sense of danger and that something bad is going to happen.
The final twenty minutes were as frightening to me as they were the first time I saw it. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s kind of like a house of horrors encountering one surreal spook after the other. Fabrice’s scares aren’t cheap though. They run deep and are executed in an unsettling and dream-like way. It’s difficult to tell how much is actually in Jeanne’s head, or if something more supernatural is going on. Just like Calvaire, Vinyan ends on the most unsettling note with a disturbing shot that is difficult to get out of your head. It poses a lot more questions than it cares to answer, but this only adds to the terror in my opinion.
It’s easy to see why Vinyan was so poorly received. It was marketed as some sort of slaggy horror film when it’s actually more of a slow art-house film which wouldn’t suit the masses. If you allow yourself to be immersed in its dark and dream-like atmosphere then you can actually find quite a lot to like. It’s much more complicated and deeper than it first appears and it offers a truly frightening, surreal third act where Jeanne’s unstable mind begins to seep out into reality. Vinyan is a masterpiece of atmosphere. It may be a little too slow in places, but don’t let that put you off. Go with it because there’s actually quite a lot to like.