Judge Daryl Loomis carefully keeps track of his furniture arrangements.
I remember things differently.
Director Marina de Van showed a lot of promise in her first feature film, In My Skin, a zero budget, disturbing film about self-mutilation that was both smart and gross. It took seven years, but de Van is finally back with a larger scale effort, but this intriguing thriller is a sadly mixed total product.
Facts of the Case
Jeanne (Sophie Marceau, A Midsummer Night's Dream), a journalist trying to break into fiction, is devastated when her first novel is rejected. The stress and disappointment turn her once ideal family life into a living hell when she stops recognizing her face in the mirror. Her husband and children don't see anything wrong, but it starts taking over her life. Soon, her whole family looks different, her apartment looks different, and it seems like there's a whole different life going on in the mirror. Reality takes on another meaning when Jeanne (Marceau) actually becomes Jeanne (Monica Bellucci, The Brothers Grimm), the woman in the mirror, suffering the same fate.
Not recognizing yourself in the mirror is a strange fear, but de Van exploits the horror for all its worth in Don't Look Back. It's a good concept with some very effective moments but, unfortunately, the film is a mixed and ultimately unsatisfying thriller. The film opens strong, with a nervous Jeanne devastated to learn that the book that was so personal has been rejected. More than the rejection, though, is the reason. As a multi-time published author of non-fiction who has written about her own childhood, Jeanne is appalled to learn that the book just doesn't seem very real. It makes her question her whole life, and these questions bring us into the story.
As the plot gets going, it starts to resemble a ghost story. At first, Jeanne notices that, in pictures and on video, the furniture arrangement is different from how she remembers it. The little differences are frustrating, but she starts to panic when the small changes become big. First it's the table, but then the wallpaper and house layout are unfamiliar and, finally, she doesn't even recognize her family. Nobody sees anything wrong and she starts to question every part of her memory. She doesn't have amnesia; she just remembers things differently, and very clearly. When her own face starts to change, things go downhill fast.
I like the whole setup. De Van's initial focus on things like wallpaper made me question the things I'd seen and made me watch the details more closely. When the characters start to change, de Van melds the actors' faces together to very creepy effect. It's amazing how ugly a mash-up of two beautiful faces can be. When Jeanne changes in appearance from Sophie Marceau to Monica Bellucci, Don't Look Back the film is at its most interesting point conceptually and it is when the problems with the film become most apparent. The effect is unsettling and gruesome in a non-violent way. It makes a strong case for the horror of body dysmorphia. It's a disturbing concept and effective imagery, but de Van doesn't go far enough with that angle. Instead, she delivers an explanation that makes very little sense and it becomes clear that there's little here behind the concept.
It still could have worked, too, but the characters and performances are lacking considerably. With the two women coping with the changes they're facing, there's little time for the supporting roles to shine through. Her family should be her connection to reality, but they're given no character and no capacity to help. Plus, because the family keeps changing from one group to another, we can't really get a handle on who these people are. This is a problem with the two versions of Jeanne, as well, but the acting is the main problem here. Both Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci have done good work, but they're lacking here. Each alternates between panic and tears the entire time and, since the entire focus is on the Jeanne character, it is far less compelling than it is irritating. Really, it's too bad; there are good concepts in the film, but the execution just doesn't measure up to what the film could have been.
MTI has released a very basic DVD for Don't Look Back under their IFC Midnight label. The anamorphic transfer looks fine, with good color and black levels, but it's always a little bit soft. The surround sound is decent, but nothing special. The only extra is a trailer, which is barely worth mentioning.
There are things to like about Don't Look Back; the concept is great and there is some good atmosphere. After two films, I think that Marina de Van shows the potential to make something really good. Here, though, the performances aren't very good and the finish is far too hokey to take seriously.
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