Thursday, August 02, 2012

Splitting Hairs with Village of Shadows: A Movie Review

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Director: Fouad Benhammou.

Writers: Fouad Benhammou, Pascal Jaubert, and Lionel Olenga.

Cast: Christa Theret, Bárbara Goenaga, Cyrille Thouvenin, Ornella Boulé, Axel Kiener, and Jonathan Cohen.

Village of Shadows, or Le Village des Ombres for French speakers, is a moody thriller that spends much of its time in darkness. This is French director Fouad Benhammou's first film at the helm and Benhammou uses too little light in many scenes. Village of Shadows is well written, but horror and thriller fans might find the film's pacing on the slow side of the scale. This is one of only a few horror titles that has put this reviewer squarely on the fence on whether to recommend this film or not.

The film begins with a scene from 1944. Two German soldiers are hidden in a barn with a force lingering outside. One man confronts a strange entity while another attempts suicide. This is no picnic. Then, the film uses an excellent transition to bring the film to 2008. Several friends are now heading to the small French town of Ruiflec. Once they arrive, several characters begin to disappear. Astute film fans will deduce the film's plot by the end of the first act. A demonic figure requires the lives of the soon to be damned.

The writing is predictable, but it is also well thought out. Writing is often best done as a collaboration. And, writers Fouad Benhammou, Pascal Jaubert, and Lionel Olenga have weaved quite a tale. There are curses, a haunted village, the search for immortality and several screaming characters. The story uses many flashbacks and flashforwards, but at the center of the story is a tale of tragedy.

It is just too bad that much of the story cannot be seen. Long shots are well done and they are lit just enough. However, interior shots and many medium shots are cloaked in darkness. When several characters gasp at the entrance of a mysterious other, this film fan could not even see anyone there. This film is almost entirely shot during night. So, fans must expect the dreary. Benhammou does use lighting well in other scenes, however. The villain's face is kept mostly in darkness except for its eyes. This is a little frightening. As well, one character sits in the darkness listening to two others until they turn on the light. This created for a subdued jump scare. Yet, Benhammou is not afraid to experiment with lighting; unfortunately, some of his experiments fail.

Looking at a range of film elements and Village of the Shadows receives very average marks. The music is exceptionally done. Stéphane Le Gouvello uses a classic style with violins and music box-like sounds to introduce scenes and to keep the film unsettling. The acting is okay, but many characters and their emotions are hidden in darkness. Few characters receive very man lines. The conclusion is a tragic one with all of the timelines coming together. Viewers wanting a twist at the end might be disappointed with the final scenes.

Village of Shadows is a French language film that has only been released in France, to date. This title is likely to experience a tough time reaching North American shores simply because this film is not overly compelling. The music and story are well done. But, what of the action? There are pacing issues. There is also very little interaction between the protagonists and the villain. This is a good first outing from Benhammou and this film fan will continue to watch his film career develop. In the end, film fans might want to wait until Benhammou has perfected his art as The Village of Shadows is unable to reach true heavenly heights or hellish lows.

Overall: 6.25 out of 10 (good writing, lots of French history, a good setting, too dark, slow pacing, very little action or conflicted interaction).

The film's fan page is here (French):

Village of Shadows on Facebook

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