SEPTEMBER 6, 2009
After watching Inglourious Basterds, I thought of two things: 1. "This is the first Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown that reminded me of why I loved him so much to begin with", and 2. "I need to see more films with Mélanie Laurent". So I nearly shrieked with joy to discover that she appeared in a serial killer movie called La Chambre Des Morts (aka Room Of Death), because it would allow me to combine my desire with my “job” of seeing a horror movie every day.
Unfortunately it’s not really a serial killer movie in the usual sense. A comparison to Silence Of The Lambs would be reasonable, as there is a heavy procedural element, a female investigator with a tragic past (that would be Laurent) who is belittled by some of her male peers, and lots and lots of scenes where cops investigate isolated structures on grey-lit days.
But the villain isn’t really a serial killer! More like a kidnapper who fucked up. They have a girl for ransom, but the ransom money is stolen, so they kill the girl and kidnap another. The only other deaths in the film come at the hand of the A Simple Plan-esque characters that stole the ransom money, who, in standard movie fashion, let greed get the better of them, with tragic results. Toss in Laurent’s backstory (which is never made completely clear), her blossoming relationship with her Ben Chaplin-y partner, the trouble of balancing her work with her home life (she has infant twins, the father is out of the picture), some stuff about taxidermy, mythological references, and even a goddamn S&M club, and you have a narrative that goes out of its way to avoid being mistaken for a traditional serial killer movie.
But I chalk my confusion up to the synopsis writer. According to it, the film is “A creepy murder mystery that follows a young female detective in a race to stop a killer who makes his victims look like dolls”. Well, as I said, the ‘killer’ only kills one girl, and while the killer does prop the corpse up like a doll, it’s hardly an important factor in the grand scheme of things. To mention it in the synopsis makes about as much sense as mentioning Ben Tramer in a quick summary of Halloween.
Luckily it’s still an interesting thriller. The backstory, while a bit muddled, has a unique mystery behind it, where we know that the two girls in the flashbacks are two of our current characters, but you’re not sure which one is which. And Laurent is, obviously, a joy to watch - beautiful and quite natural in the role, instead of coming off as ACTING! like some of her peers (I mean you, Jolie). And when she needs to look something up online, she uses Google, not some “GenriCo Web Search 2000” nonsense like we usually get.
What really caught my attention were all the little quirks in the movie. There are not one but TWO scenes where there is music that you think is the film’s soundtrack, only to find out that it’s music someone in the scene is playing (and the 2nd of which, she shuts off the song and then the actual movie score kicks in!). One of the killers, attempting to perform an autopsy (or something) on a monkey, gets frustrated and tosses the poor thing’s carcass across the room (all I could hear in my head was the guy on The State: “Monkeytorture”). And my favorite has to be when a former suspect (who they had already mocked for no reason, another delight) stumbles on a major clue and informs them. If a cop ever insinuated that I had murdered a child or even stolen a goddamn candy bar, I sure as hell wouldn’t bother to give them a hand in their investigation. I guess the guy is just not as stubborn and vindictive as me.
So while it’s a bit over-plotted and not really suspenseful enough to rank high on the list of all time serial/thriller movies, it works as a character drama, as well as an “alt” thriller. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that it’s based on a novel. And like every movie I see based on a novel, I hereby announce plans to read it - plans that shall be forgotten by the time I hit “Publish Post”.
What say you?