The Crimson Rivers (2000)

JULY 1, 2009


Finally, a serial killer movie I like without any reservations! There aren’t many, so I get a bit excited when I see something like The Crimson Rivers (French: Les Rivières Pourpres), which doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but merely does what it should and does it well. You get the good acting (Jean Reno!), the red herrings, the standard mid-way foot chase, and unlike even the classics of the genre (Se7en, which I’ve honestly never really been in love with), an intriguing mystery.

See, the thing with Seven (it’s too annoying to type out it’s “real” name) is that it didn’t take long for them to figure out the hook behind the killings (the seven deadly sins). Here, a good hour or so is spent on uncovering clues, talking to potential suspects, etc. We don’t know why the guy is killing people, but that’s nothing. Why is he filling their eye sockets with rain water? Or placing them in the fetal position? That’s the stuff I love. There’s something about a guy sifting through old records and typing names into a computer that I find incredibly intriguing. So to have more than half the movie devoted to that is like a godsend.

There are also a great number of little touches that I loved. Vincent Cassell’s character (a good guy for once!) is shown a horrific crime scene photo of a girl who was run over by a truck, and instead of showing us the photo in all its gory detail (ew) or hiding it entirely (weak), director Matthieu Kassovitz (best known here as the guy who told us all not to see his film Babylon AD because FOX butchered it - and we all listened) places the camera near the ground pointing up at Cassell’s reaction, and allows us to faintly make out the image through the light streaming through the backside of the photograph. There are even a few touches of humor, like when Cassell fights a few skinheads set to the music/sound effects of a previously established Tekken-type game someone is playing in the background.

Plus, I like that it’s a buddy cop movie, but only in the 2nd half. Reno and Cassell don’t even meet until they’ve already gotten pretty much every piece of the puzzle, so when they finally meet it starts coming together for them (and us), resulting in a fast paced third act that features a terrific (if too short) car chase, the aforementioned foot chase (way better than Seven’s, if you ask me), and a finale built around an avalanche. And the killer isn’t just pissed that his/her dad never went into their room.

Actually the killer’s motive ties into Nazis. Sort of like The Unborn, they just spring it on you late in the film, but it’s a nice touch. Beats the umpteenth biblically-motivated serial killer. In fact, the whole thing is kind of convoluted, but if you pay enough attention you should be able to understand it all with little trouble. In fact, the only issue I had with the film is a relative lack of viable suspects; it’s certainly presented as a whodunit but you really can only believe two people and one of them is killed halfway through or so. The motive is the real mystery, but it would have been nice to have another character to mislead us.

Then again, maybe the people who are confused were using the dubbed version of the film, instead of going by the dumbed down subtitles. Much like Let The Right One In, it seems that Sony didn’t want us reading too much, so they sort of “summed up” a lot of the dialogue. For example, this is what the dubbed track (presumably created by the filmmakers, seeing as Reno and Cassell do their own voices) offers for a line of dialogue early on between a coroner and Reno:

“I figured you’d want to see him as the killer
wanted us to find him. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The subtitles, on the other hand, merely offer:

“I figured you’d want to see him intact. It’s incredible.”

Yeah, it means the same thing, but it’s still the Cliff’s Notes version of the dialogue. I don’t have time to go through the entire film and spot all the differences, but for the 5 minutes that I was watching the dubbed audio with the subtitles activated, not a single written line matched what was being said, and the subs were always shorter. Even minor character details were just left out entirely, the coroner tells Reno that he attended one of his classes “in Nice”, but the location is left out of the subtitles. Does it really matter where the guy attended school? No, but it just shows that the subs are half-assed. Had I known this from the start (I discovered it after I watched the film, when switching around to see if the commentary was in English) I would have just watched it dubbed, especially since Reno and Cassell (and possibly others) were doing their own voices anyway.

At least they provided enough extra features to make up for it. There’s a 50+ minute documentary on the film’s production, which contains some fairly candid revelations from cast and crew alike (Cassell in particular seems frustrated with the production’s tendency to rewrite the script on the spot), and a peek at some scenes that were deleted (or never even filmed - Kassovitz himself was supposed to play a role but budget cuts resulted in his character being written out entirely). Then there are a trilogy of pieces in the vein of Sundance’s “Anatomy of a Scene” series, where every aspect of putting a scene together (editing, sound, makeup effects, the actors, etc) is detailed. The one for the autopsy scene runs a full half hour, the others are only about 10 minutes each. Still, all that plus a commentary (which is in French, but has its own subtitles) gives you around three and a half hours of material, which is far more than I was expecting. And the video quality doesn’t seem to suffer either, which is even more impressive as it’s all on one side of the disc.

I didn’t listen to the commentary (wasn’t in the mood to read for another 100 minutes), but unlike a lot of these blind buys, I will be keeping this one, so I will hopefully find time to check out the commentary in the future. There’s a sequel, but neither Kassovitz or Cassell returned, so my interest is a bit muted. Anyone see it? Any good? I hear Christopher Lee speaks French, that might be enough to warrant a view either way.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. I love Jean Reno and Sam Cassel. When I saw the cover for this I had to rent to rent it. I like good foreign films anyway and my Blockbuster actually carries a good selection. The characters were good, overall story was a bit over the top, but it reads like hard science as opposed to the story in the second movie. I liked that both guys admitted being set in their ways and did not give in to change once they were working together. I wish there was a prequel somewhere because there is a lot of allusion in both movies about Reno's character being infamous in the French police department and I want to know about his early adventures. It also had the right amount of dread, unlike Se7en which seemed like every scene was just coated in coagulated blood.

  2. I've seen CRIMSON RIVERS 2 and its a big fave.
    The plot is ridiculously fun and over the top. And the foot chase scene in this one kicks its predecessors ass. DEFINITELY check it out!

  3. I haven't seen it in awhile but I remember liking Crimson Rivers 2 almost as much as the original.

  4. It was a pretty good movie, and I liked the rapport between Reno and Cassel, but I thought the lame ending brought it down quite a bit. Much like Jaume Balaguero's The Nameless, it beautifully built up a sense of dread and horror, but blew it with an anticlimactic "twist". Apparently the book had a different ending, so I'm curious to find out what that one is.


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