My notes on Au delà des murs (Beyond the Walls)
Because TV networks and streaming providers wants franchises not closure, the television serial – a mainstay of genre around the world but not in America – is a dying breed. In the days of last episode hooks, like the dangle that will be forever stuck at the end of the not-recommissioned The Living and the Dead, would Dennis Potter have to pitch his masterpiece as Pennies From Heaven: Season One? Aside from the odd SyFy miniseries (The Lost Room, Childhood’s End), the serial format is rare. This three-part French TV show tells its story in a satisfying manner, and the time-twisty mystery neatly packs away all the toys at the end.
The hook is that Lisa (Veerle Baetens), a young speech therapist who is somehow estranged from normal life, inherits a house opposite her flat from a man she didn’t know who has been sitting dead in an armchair for thirty years. Moving in to the large house, she is struck by the odd wallpaper – the production design is excellent throughout – and starts scraping away. The set-up hints at a familiar haunted house story, but the development is weirder – maybe influenced by the novel House of Leaves or the odd episode of Doctor Who – as Lisa breaks through a bricked-up fireplace and finds herself in a seemingly universe-sized house, which has a scattering of perhaps-dangerous inhabitants. She hooks up with jittery survivor Julien (François Deblock), a housebreaker who is vague about how long he has been wandering through the house (living on black bread, which is all there is to eat) but shows Lisa the ropes in episode two.
The third show, which brings on the welcome Geraldine Chaplin as a sinister black-clad old lady and reunites Lisa with her drowned sister Sophie (Lila-Rose Gilberti), discovers an idyllic lake and woodland still inside the house, and dawdles a little as the heroine has to cope with the memories that have warped her adult life before making decisions that set in motion a chain of events that wind up with explanations for some (but not all) of the mysteries. This is a story that needs its length, and – more riskily – needs its longeurs: it’s not event-packed, but much of the most effective material has the protagonist wandering alone through the fantastical indoor environment the way she previously did through her own life on the outside. Early on, Lisa refuses to go out drinking with her work friends – she wears a wedding ring so she can claim to be married – and when she gives in, things don’t turn out well as she blows hot and cold with a guy she meets in a bar. Later, in the house, she is just as leery of Julien, who does have some secrets of his own, raising the possibility that this is all taking place in her shut-in head. Scripted by Sylvie Chanteux, Marc Herpoux and director Hervé Hadmar (Witnesses).
The series will be coming to on-demand horror service Shudder in the next few months.