CALVAIRE (aka The Ordeal) **** Belgium / France / Luxembourg 2004 Dir: Fabrice Du Welz. 88 mins
After being menaced by a horny, elderly fan in his dressing room, handsome young singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas), heading off to a Christmas gala, breaks down in the middle of nowhere. He takes refuge at an old inn ran by “Paul Bartel” (Jackie Berroyer in a standout role named after the director of EATING RAOUL), a former comedian fond of dwarf jokes. Lamenting the departure of his former wife, Bartel warns his unexpected guest not to go into the village – prefiguring a series of unfortunate events involving bestiality, a savage beating and enforced transvestism.
Reaching some kind of unnervingly amusing high point during a bizarre pub sequence, this relatively low-key but extremely intense black comedy nods to the classic rural American nightmare movies of the 1970s while incorporating cameos for the iconic Brigitte Lahaie and Philippe Nahon. It delivers on the promise / threat of its English title by exchanging a sense of pervasive dread for genuine unpleasantness, while never losing the gallows humour. A dinner table sequence, complete with extreme close-ups of our hero’s madly darting eyeball, is the most overt nod to an obvious influence, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – but Du Welz also refers to DELIVERANCE (listen out for squealing pigs on the soundtrack) and STRAW DOGS.
With an eye for quietly creepy imagery (note the kids in matching red raincoats) and a suitably bleak conclusion, it’s a suitably disquieting piece with an admirable performance by Lucas as one of the most tormented male leads of 21st century horror. Berroyer is equally impressive, turning on a dime between melancholic, sadly funny and menacing as the deluded innkeeper.
Review by Steven West
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