Just over a decade ago – yes, it has already been a decade since the mid-2000’s – France produced a crop of horror films, some astonishingly brutal. With the remake of the 2008 film “Martyrs” recently being released, I decided to revisit French horror with the film “Sheitan”, written and directed by Kim Chapiron. I had no idea what to expect and went in knowing only that it starred Vincent Cassel (“Irréversible”).
The story centers on a group of entitled club-kids that find themselves in a small country town filled with odd townsfolk on Christmas Eve. These kids, Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Eve (Roxane Mesquida), Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan), Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti) and Ladj (Ladj Ly) are not ones you feel empathy for. In fact, I was hoping for bad things to happen to them. Thankfully bad things did happen to them.
During a night out at a club in Paris, Bart’s wise-assery causes him to be hit over the head with a bottle and tossed out of the club. Instead of heading home, Eve invites the crew back to her country home for the evening where they meet the housekeeper Joseph (Vincent Cassel) as well as a group of truly bizarre and dysfunctional townsfolk.
The movie has a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” uneasiness to it. Think of the dinner scene with Grandpa and the hammer. Yeah, that feeling. Everyone in the town may or may not be related by blood. They’re all very comfortable with one another and very friendly with animals. Oh, did I mention that Bart brought his dog along too? He was well-loved in one scene.
Without giving too much away, because I think this movie is best enjoyed with a fresh and open mind, bad things start happening mainly to Bart. Joseph takes a major liking to him and wants to be best friends. Joseph’s wife Marie is very pregnant and due any moment. Marie sticks to the shadows but it is revealed that she’s creating a strange doll of sorts for her new baby.
Let’s talk more about the townsfolk. They’re over-charged, for lack of a better term, and not too bright. They love to have fun and are open to having anyone (or anything) join them in that fun. Our friends are initially intrigued but soon find themselves feeling as uncomfortable as I was.
That’s one thing this film had going for it: the uncomfortable tone. I appreciate that in a horror film. I don’t mind a good squirm from time to time. Another thing, and honestly one of the best things, was Vincent Cassel. He was fantastic as the bumbling, too-close-talking, dimwitted clown of a man with nefarious ulterior motives.
Unfortunately the movie crashed and burned at the end. The uneven script was co-written by the director and his father, Christian Chapiron. The film’s initial meandering pace became a rush to the finish which left me questioning much of the plot. One character in particular was all but forgotten as though she’d just literally been written out of the movie without any closure.
“Sheitan” had some redeeming qualities which is why I don’t hate it. The film was shot with the feeling of including the viewer in a voyeuristic “Hey, come here – check this out…” sort of way. If you enjoy a good squirm, don’t mind French, appreciate the creepy stylings of Vincent Cassel and can handle some questionable scenes featuring animals, then give this film a watch. It’s just a shame that most of the build-up doesn’t amount to much at the end.
Overall rating: 5/10