MARCH 19, 2009
One of the first HMAD entries was for Fabrice Du Welz’ film Calvaire, which I really dug due to its WAYYYY off-kilter approach to the standard “guy seeks shelter after his car breaks down and runs awful of crazy townfolk” story. So I was eager to check out Vinyan, which was also directed by Du Welz. Unfortunately, it was co-written by Donkey Punch’s Olly Blackburn, which I should have taken as a warning sign that the film would be a bore.
But even taking that into consideration, this movie is far too goddamn uneventful to resonate. And that’s a shame, because at its heart is a pretty interesting and sad story; that of a mother and father’s tragic obsession with finding their son, who was taken a few years earlier. After they think they see him on a charity video (you know, “these children are hungry, and the cameraman couldn’t be bothered to give them some sandwiches, so give us your money”), they meet with the usual shady types and arrange for travel deep in the Burma jungle (unfortunately for them, Rambo had just left with a different group), and then, naturally, run afoul of people they would rather not have dealt with.
Unfortunately, such scenes only make up maybe 10-15% of the entire 95 minute movie. The rest is like Terrence Malick’s version of a jungle/survival movie. If you like looking at trees and people gazing in awe at lush landscapes and such, you’ll love this movie, and maybe I would too - had I not been told it was a horror movie, or if I hadn’t already seen 90 versions of the same movie. Thin Red Line is a great film, and I don’t mind that it’s “slow”, because at its heart is another WWII movie. I’ve seen plenty of those, so I enjoyed the change of pace. But you don’t see a lot of jungle-set movies (horror or otherwise) that aren’t about cannibals, and I was genuinely interested in whether or not they would find their son. Unfortunately, Du Welz and Blackburn didn’t feel the same way.
I mean, Christ, we watch FOUR full minutes of opening credits (not even a full sequence, just the production companies and title) and some sort of filtered rain image before an actual shot appears on the screen. Then it takes another 30 for our couple to get to the jungle. Once they get there... nothing happens. It’s not until the hour mark that the “Feral children” promised on the DVD synopsis appear, and another twenty before they do anything, you know, feral (those hoping for Ils/Them or Eden Lake in the jungle will be sorely disappointed). The only exciting thing that occurs in the first hour is when a guy is suddenly beaten with a stick by some locals, a scene that is never explained beyond a guy that looks like Oldboy saying “He deserves it”.
And again, this wouldn’t even be a big problem had the actual plot been anything but a glorified Macguffin - most of the scenes with the parents (Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Beart) concern them watching one another sleep, staring longingly into space as they wander around, or getting fleeced by the locals (Sewell apparently carries several million dollars in cash in his pockets). You start to wonder if the kid didn’t just run away to find a less boring life.
Back to that DVD synopsis - on the top, written as more of a tagline, it explains “When someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused and angry. It becomes... VINYAN.” While I don’t argue with the definition, it has fuck all to do with this movie. Only two people die in the entire thing (in the final five minutes), and their spirits apparently had something better to do, because they sure as hell don’t do anything confused and/or angry. Sure, the dialogue appears in the film, but it has nothing to do with the story beyond providing more “local culture”; the movie could have just as easily been called Rice Paddy or maybe Hooker.
(While we’re on the subject of DVD box art, the Variety quote on the cover actually comes from a mixed (at best) review, though to be fair it’s about the cinematography and not the actual plot/acting/whatever else you think would be the subject of a blurb they would put on the cover of their movie.)
The only extra besides some Sony trailers (including yet another ripoff of The Departed; how many of these goddamn movies are they going to make? This one has Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke, for those like me who can’t tell them apart except for which 30ish actors appear in them) is a fifty minute featurette. Die hard fans will have to wait for the inevitable Ultimate Edition that features several more hours of Rufus Sewell wandering about (or, in all seriousness, an explanation for the scene where Sewell suddenly throws a Molotov into a hut, watches it burn for a while, and then screams “Go home, Josh!” over and over). Given the length, it’s obviously more interesting than the usual “featurette”, but insight into the story - which is what I was mainly hoping for - is unfortunately sparse. It’s also mainly in Thai and French; prepare for lots of reading!
Hopefully lots of people will read this review before seeing the film, and thus go into it knowing what they are in for. As I re-watched parts of the film again for review writing purposes (having not bothered to take notes the first time) I found myself warming to it a bit. It’s still needlessly pretentious and indulgent, but it wasn’t as painful to watch KNOWING that it was pretentious and indulgent. Had someone said “Hey, this is a strange drama about some parents’ search for their son”, I might even have dug it. I’m not sure why Sony is trying to market it to the horror crowd; even the brief horror elements in the film’s final 10 minutes are nothing fans will get excited about. It’s just a sad, very French story/travelogue about the dangers of rich folks going into the jungle, and not much more.
What say you?