The French horror film Malefique (2002) bored the crap out of me for nearly the full first half of its length, & I was feeling pretty sure I'd have to write a fairly nasty review. But when it finally clicked on for me, long though it took, it became rather intense & cool.
What I had to get past was the uneven quality of the acting, & the fact that an extremely tiny cast of four primary characters are as unevenly drawn.
The character away consist of Unlikely, Tepidly Interesting, Mostly Boring, with only one Quite Good. It would almost have worked better if they'd all been equally bad, as then at least it'd be internally consistent.
The minimalist setting is a very grubby almost dungeon-like prison cell. Four men live in these close quarters. They discover, hidden in a wall, a grimoire that a previous prisoner, Danvers (Geoffrey Cary), left behind after escaping by means of black magic.
The central protagonist is great, but the side-characters register with less conviction. The butch transvestite Marcus (Clovis Cornillac) whom I call Unlikely comes off too much like Meatloaf in Fight Club (1999). His is a very unconvincing performance, & his doomful supernaturally-induced fate is a failed point of horror as it hinged on the viewer believing things about him which never became plausible.
Slow-witted Paquarette (Dimitri Rataud), the Tepidly Interesting fellow, is doing time for eating his baby sister. He is slightly better portrayed, but not a great deal of personality. He's a mite reminiscent of Dracula's assistant Renfield only because bugs are among his varied diet.
Lassalle (Philippe Laudenbach) the aged library is doing time for having killed his wife, played with mediocrity & Mostly Boring though he has an interesting character-actor face. Ultimately only the new guy Carrere (Gerald Larouche) is played superbly.
As the characters attempt to resolve the meaning of the symbols & deduce the method of Danvers' spells, the grimoire transforms itself as needed, & the outcome of the magic is never that which was expected. Rather than conclude that the magic is just bad & will never do anything but harm them, they persist in believing they just have to get it right.
Carrere's desire is to be able to see his son. If by magic he can open a mystic door, he'll escape for that purpose only. The film gets interesting only when just such a dimensional door does open, & the prisoners escape -- into another cell without doors or windows of any kind.
From that moment on everything that happens is sincerely spooky & unusual. Each time the spells go awry, each character experiences an ironic doom. Unlikely Marcus has the least interesting doom, but the aging librarian's desire for youth is one gross, ugly, & mesmerizing sequence.
So each character receives from the book not what they believe they're seeking, but a horrible doom with only a twisted relationship to what they hoped for. Can't reveal it here, but Carrere's ironic fate was left for last, & was well worth plodding through the whole film for that strangely quiet moment of abject horror.
The last half of the film gets high marks for edgy grossness, & even higher marks for the authentic strangeness of the magic these poor bastards unlock.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl