TROUBLE EVERY DAY is one of those films I’ve always meant to take in, but never crossed paths with in the 16 years since its release. I’m not entirely sure why it took so long, but my best guess is that it outwardly sells itself as one of those moody, atmospheric art/horror films that you need to be in a specific mood to appreciate. I guess I just haven’t been in that specific mood, and I don’t know if I am in that mood even now having just finished watching it.
The story begins with Dr. Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and his wife, June (Tricia Vessey) flying to France ostensibly for their honeymoon. Unbeknownst to June, the real reason for their journey is so Shane can hunt down a neuroscientist – Leo (Alex Descas) – who’s gone into hiding, presumably because his wife has a nasty habit of violently eating men mid-coitus. Shane has a similar condition to Leo’s wife, and is looking for answers.
Claire Denis’ TROUBLE EVERY DAY – disappointingly not a sequel to Dan Aykroyd’s 1991 film NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, but something else entirely – was released in 2001. It’s an early example of French New Extremity a wave of films that contained grisly violence and aberrant sexual themes to the delight of horror fans all over the globe. While Hollywood brought in audiences with watered down PG-13 horror thrills, the French were drenching the screen in blood and gore and other unspeakable unpleasantries. The most popular of these remains HIGH TENSION, but TROUBLE EVERY DAY predated it by two years.
Denis’ film also clicks into the early 21st century trend toward unconventional vampire tales, culminating in the popularity of stuff like TRUE BLOOD and TWILIGHT. This film is nothing like those, however, traveling as far away from them as you can get, and even further away from the caped ham of Lugosi and Coppola’s Keanu-eating Gary Oldman. This is a palpably bleak, squalid and depressing film. The atmosphere is cold and distant. The film’s French landscapes are frozen and uninviting… although I would probably swap places with the characters since I’m writing this review during an Australian heatwave… but I digress.
Vincent Gallo – who first came to my attention for his role as a giant, bent penis in Chloe Sevigny’s mouth in the 2003 film, THE BROWN BUNNY – is at the center of the film here, and that’s unfortunate. Why? Because Gallo is deeply unpleasant to watch. He’s strange, detached, and wooden in his demeanor and delivery. That may add to the film’s creepy vibe, but I can’t admit it’s in a good way. The man makes me cringe.
Speaking of delivery and dialogue – there’s not a lot of it here. Instead, the film fills its soundscape with background noise: the hum of aircraft, machinery operating, and cars sailing past in the distance. TROUBLE EVERY DAY rests heavily on the “artistic” end of the spectrum, with lots of lingering shots, and scenes of characters being quiet and going about their business, leaving it up to the audience to deduce what’s going on inside their heads.
We’re treated to countless, close-up shots of hands doing things – sometimes sexual, sometimes not, but – mostly sexual. The film tries to sell its sensuality with closeup focus on flesh, heavy breathing, and the taboo of violence and sex mingling in an awful way. There are a couple of truly effective and unsettling scenes of brutality that will no doubt upset the more sensitive folks in the audience.
For the most part though, this wants to be a thoughtful, introspective film, but I’m not entirely convinced there’s enough substance to warrant such inner contemplation. It’s not poorly made, but the story lacks momentum. Everything is brought down by the glacially slow pace, and its eroticism is hampered by the presence of Gallo who’s about as erotic as the aroma of dead fish.
It is, however, valuable as an artifact in the evolution of French extreme cinema, which has been disappointingly sparing in its offerings of late. It you’re looking for something to scratch that itch, it’s worth a shot, but this is a film you need to be in the mood for, and I think that mood will vary greatly from individual horror fan to individual horror fan. If the idea of spending time around depressed, quiet French people with irregular, violent sexual tendencies sounds good to you, then TROUBLE EVERY DAY might just be the ticket.