“Home is where the hurt is”
Nothing warms my heart more than to see a beautiful story of two people who love eachother, weather life’s storms with their chins up and come out the other side stronger because of it. Dys- is not that kind of story at all. But that’s alright! In the world of horror, it’s more than okay to revel in one’s torment and pain. Some call it schadenfreude, I call it any other day of the year.
DYS-, the directorial debut from Maude Michaud, is a Canadian horror film that tells the story of an estranged couple who are barricaded in their apartment after a deadly virus breaks out in Montreal. What starts as a seemingly typical zombie(esque) flick quickly becomes a harrowing look into their psyches as their sanity begins to unravel with their marriage.
As the films opens, we are intorduced to Eva and Sam, a couple whose marriage is strained for yet-to-be revealed reasons. Eva who once worked as a successful model is starting low level clerical work, Sam teaches college level photography courses and a bad bout of flu makes the rounds in Montreal. Tensions escalate when the city is put on lock down after the severity of the flu is realized causing Eva to miss her first day of work, so needless to say, things are not good in their home. That night, Sam’s best friend and neighbor pays them a visit but when it is revealed that he himself is sick after coughing up blood on their dinner table (and Eva herself), the couple realize that this is a much more serious situation than previously thought. Thus begins their self imposed quarantine in their tiny apartment.
Any one who’s ever been stuck in close quarters with someone for a long amount of time knows the strain that this will put on the relationship. Not only do you begin to nitpick every action of the opposite party, you begin to doubt yourself in ways you didn’t think you would. Now, imagine this same circumstance, but with a couple whose marriage is already on the brink of destruction. Now this is an interesting concept for a horror flick. In true Romero fashion, the horror in this film is not in the outbreak of the unnamed virus running rampant outside of their apartment door, but in the psychological damage that being in a situation like this will wreck on the human mind. It’s more about the damage that we will do as humans than the potential risk of infection.
Not only did Michaud make her directorial debut with this film, she also wrote and edited. This is a massive undertaking, and knowing that alone, I have come out of this film with a large respect for her as a film maker. While the writing was spotty at times, I’m more left wondering if that was due to choices in the editing bay rather than the script itself. The first and second act seemed a little rushed at times, building up large plot points that either get rushed over or quickly explained in unsatisfactory ways. A large part of the film was built around this unspoken conflict between Eva and Sam, and when we finally get to the meat and potatoes of why their marriage is on the rocks, I was left a little underwhelmed. There are a few others that are left unexplained, but I feel that these can be explained as a visual representation of Eva’s unraveling mental state. Regardless, when we finally enter the third act it is all made worth it.
While the writing may have left a few things to be desired, there were many more high points in this film. Many of the shots were framed beautifully, capturing the divide between Sam and Eva through shots that would emphasize their lives as individuals, as opposed to a functioning unit. I feel that this is where Michaud’s touch as a director had a chance to shine through. This did not seem like her first go at a full length feature. A huge highlight for me was the use of practical effects (courtesy of Sebastien Montpetit at In-Vitro FX). While far from a bloody or gory film, the special effects that were used were top notch. This was largely a psychological film but the few graphic scenes were handled very well. I winced a time or two, and may have muttered my disagreement with what was being shown loud enough to be heard by my roommate.
There were a lot of things about this film that I liked, and while there were some that I disliked, I think the former win out in the long run. Will I watch this again? Definitely. Will I recommend it? Already have. It’s not a perfect film, but then again, how many are? I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from Maude Michaud, for her debut effort it was pretty damn solid.