Lionsgate // 2001 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 5th, 2008
A Mummy is Terrorizing the Louvre
Can I put it any more plainly?
To elaborate, Lisa (Sophie Marceau, Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves) lives across from the Louvre and had just lost her grandmother. Recently, she's been crushing on an electrician named Martin (Frédéric Diefenthal, Taxi 4), but she becomes possessed by the spirit of a mummy. Meanwhile, across the street, scientists at the Louvre (including Julie Christie of Doctor Zhivago fame) are trying to unravel the mystery of a mummy buried without a name, a huge no-no in Egyptian burial rites. To make things worse, the titular Belphegor is roaming the halls at night, stealing artifacts and scaring people to death. The intrepid inspector Varlac (Michel Serrault, La Cage aux folles) must solve the mystery of the mummy before more people are terrorized.
In its favor, Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre has high production values (including access to the Louvre), a solid cast, and an interesting premise. The CGI work has an interesting style and looks suitably realistic, while the film gains immeasurably from the fact that it was allowed to shoot at the famed museum. The actors, ably led by Sophie Marceau, turn in fine performances. I especially enjoyed Julie Christie as an Egyptologist fond of "strong tea" (i.e. spiked with alcohol). Finally, the idea of a lost mummy stalking the halls of the Louvre has a built in "wow" factor that's hard to deny.
Working against the film, however, is its utter lack of distinction in the narrative department. For what is ostensibly a horror film there wasn't one moment of shock or tension. I didn't mind sitting through the film because the characters were mildly interesting, but as a horror film Belphegor fails epically. The film's main problem in that regard is an utterly transparent plot. From the beginning it's obvious (and slightly ridiculous) that the mummy has possessed Lisa. From there, it's obvious that she has to get unpossessed, and the mummy's nightly ritual has something to do with it. As an audience we know that the mummy's initial burial was screwed up, so obviously that's what needs to be set right. So, we're left knowing exactly how the movie is going to proceed from the 30-minute mark and we just spend the rest of the film waiting for the characters to catch up. Those characters are another big part of the lack of scares. None of the characters we care about are ever in any real danger. The only victims of the mummy's wrath are characters we don't know or could care less about. So, while the main characters were interesting enough to keep me watching, Belphegor doesn't deliver in the creep department.
Whether you like the film or not, this release feels like a total cash-in release on Mummy-mania with the imminent release of a new film in the Brendan Fraser-fronted franchise. Luckily for fans, the technical presentation is strong. There were a lot of scenes in the dark, detail remained surprisingly high, and the daylight scenes looked very polished. The French audio was strong with a nice mix of dialogue and effects. The subtitles were clear and easy to follow. But, that's it. Not a single extra, trailer, or supplement. Considering Belphegor is a French production, has its origins in a novel, and has such a strong cast, I would have liked at least a few supplements detailing the making of the film. I'm especially saddened because the French Region 2 release has a number of supplements.
Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre is a decent little drama masquerading as a horror film. Fans of mummy movies (or the Louvre) are encouraged to give it a rental. For everyone else, I would recommend a rental and lowered expectations. There are worse ways to spend an evening than with the Phantom of the Louvre.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated