Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sur Le Seuil (2003)

aka Evil Words

Bestselling horror writer Thomas Roy (Patrick Huard) has cut off his own fingers and unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by jumping through a closed window afterwards (pro-tip: first open the window, then hack off your fingers).

He is given into the tender loving care of psychiatrist Dr. Paul Lacasse (Michel Cote) and his very pregnant colleague and friend Dr. Jeanne Marcoux (Catherine Florent). Initially, Roy is Jeanne's patient, but she's too much of a fan to take the lead in his case, so her mentor Paul takes the initiative.

The beginning of Roy's treatment isn't exactly promising. The writer is too withdrawn to even speak anymore, and even a psychiatrist wants his patients to talk from time to time. Fortunately, and strangely, a sleazy reporter named Charles Monette (Jean L'Italien) approaches Lacasse to give the doctor a scrapbook with newspaper articles covering over thirty minor catastrophes and murders he fished out of Roy's trash. Monette doesn't come right out and tell it at first, but he can place Roy as a helper or witness at the scenes of at least five of these accidents and deaths, and speculates that the writer was in fact at each and every one of them, probably for inspiration.

That sort of knowledge is pretty helpful for a psychiatrist, and after Lacasse has realized that all of these accidents and crimes have found their way into Roy's works, he develops the theory that his patient's breakdown is based on his feelings of guilt for using the violent deaths of others as the base of his writing.

Roy's editor and best friend tries to sell the psychiatrist on a somewhat different theory, though. He is convinced that Roy was somehow able to foresee the violent deaths, and wrote about them a short time before they happened. Unlike Jeanne, Lacasse is at first understandably reluctant to accept that theory, but - as it goes - rather strange things are happening around his patient that can hardly be explained otherwise, and once Roy has regained his ability to speak, he tells him the same thing. Various hints lead the psychiatrist to a horrible event surrounding Roy's birth, an event that just might repeat itself now, thirty-six years later.

Sur Le Seuil is a French Canadian cable TV production, and most of its flaws are well within the realm of the typical for these kinds of circumstances. Firstly, Eric Tessier's direction tends a bit to the bland side, and he's not always that great at evoking the required mood for his film through intelligent stylistic choices; I found the lack of imagination in the lighting of the core horror scenes especially disappointing - some better use of shadows and indirect light could have gone a long way to make these parts of the film more tense.

Secondly, the film's script is a bit too talky in places, spending a bit too much time with parts of the characterization that aren't going anywhere. I had - just to take one example - difficulty to understand why Lacasse's status as being in a divorce was supposed to matter. Sure, the film tells us that he's off-balance because of it, but Lacasse never truly acts that way. Diversions from the film's core ideas like this also drag the pacing down a bit, and take time that could have been put to better use to explore other things more, like the idea of an absolute, partly abstract evil - instead of a horned guy named Satan - that lies behind the rather horrible things that happen throughout the movie.

On the more positive side, I was quite surprised by how grim an ending French Canadian cable TV allows the film to have - there's no cheesy rescue of the innocent in the last second. Starting from a pretty silly - yet still fascinating - premise, this is the sort of film perfectly willing to then consequently go through with it, even when it leads in a direction you just don't go on television. I can always respect a film that's consequent, especially when it takes a not very original idea that might have been taken from any occult horror movie of the 70s and really thinks it through.

So, despite its clear and visible flaws, I found myself quite satisfied with Sur Le Seuil. I'm perfectly willing to ignore pacing problems and professionally bland direction in a film that takes itself as seriously as this one does, and while I see many ways in which the film could have been improved, I'm - this time around - okay with a movie that's as inoffensively solid as this one is.


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