Judge Joel Pearce just wanted to find some mangoes.
When someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused and angry. It becomes…Vinyan.
What can you expect as Fabrice Du Welz's follow-up to Calvaire? Apparently, another slow-paced blend of arthouse torture porn, one that will alienate both viewers that talk about cinematography and those who want to see people eviscerated in new and creative ways.
Facts of the Case
Jeanne (Emanuelle Beart, Mission: Impossible) and Paul (Rufus Sewell, Dark City) are a European couple who live in Thailand. Their son was lost in the Tsunami, and are still reeling from the loss. One night, Jeanne thinks she sees their son in a video from deep in Burma, and they illegally cross the border with the help of a smuggler to search for him. From there, things go all Apocalypse Now as they get farther up the river.
In many ways, I could probably just refer readers to my review of Calvaire. So many of the same problems and issues apply to Du Welz's follow-up. Like his last film, the pace is painfully slow for serious horror junkies, which will push him away from his real target audience. At the same time, fans of arthouse cinema will find several sequences distastefully gruesome, and even they may find the conclusion too depressing and nihilistic.
Which is not to say Vinyan is a terrible film. Indeed, this is some of the most breathtaking jungle footage I have ever seen, with absolutely stunning framing and lighting. Light shoots through the fog and trees in fuzzy beams, and shadows threaten to engulf the characters forever. While Calvaire was a nicely shot horror film, Du Welz shows here that he has the eye to shoot anything he wants, and wouldn't be out of place working for National Geographic. Even when the narrative is sluggish, there's always something to look at on screen.
Vinyan also has several excellent performances. The most kudos have to go to Beart, who gives a truly heart-rending performance as a grieving mother. While the script sometimes asks her to descend much too quickly and conveniently into madness, she handles each moment of her free-fall with intensity and raw emotion. Rufus Sewell never matches this intensity, but offers good counterpoint with an impenetrable coldness. We can see that he, too, is struggling, but is dealing with that grief in a completely different way. Their guide is also grieving, though his Burmese background gives him a more balanced approach to the grieving process. In many ways, it's a film that is more interested in the grieving process than it is with telling a story.
This, I realize, sounds more like a drama than a horror flick. As the film descends into gruesome horror, we are left trying to consolidate the two jarringly different tones of Vinyan. I wasn't able to do that, though some people will probably find it works better than I did. Unfortunately, there isn't enough to like about the couple before they head towards disaster, just as there isn't enough setup of their lives before the tragedy to fully understand how much it has impacted them. The form of the movie is in place, but it has no heart, no soul.
Thankfully, Sony has done a fine job with the transfer. With a film this lush, a good video transfer is crucial, and this is a beautiful rendering of the film. The deepest shadows get lost occasionally, but the deep palette of the film has been delivered here as well as standard definition is capable of. I suspect the Blu-Ray version looks significantly better. The sound is also solid, though there were no moments that truly leapt out at me. The only special feature is a production featurette.
If you're one of the very rare people who loves both gruesome horror and arthouse fare, you could do worse than Vinyan in either genre. At its core is a fascinating study of grief, though its approach to the topic is more than misguided. It's always interesting to look at, even at its most boring and pretentious. I'm not going to recommend it warmly to anyone, though I suspect this is a film that will develop a strong cult following.
They told you never get out of the boat. Guilty.
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