My notes on Vinyan.Here’s another trip into the Heart of Darkness, with overtones of Cannibal Holocaust, Don’t Look Now, The Emerald Forest, Welcome to the Jungle, Eden Lake, Aguirre Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now, The Descent, The Lord of the Flies and Deliverance — not to mention Belgian filmmaker Fabrice du Welz’s previous detour-to-hell picture Calvaire (Ordeal).
This time out, the worst place in the world is a post-tsunami interzone between Thailand and Burma, depicted with a generalised sense of off-the-beaten-track descent-into-the-maelstrom misery which avoids even the cartoonish politics of Rambo. Jeanne Belhmer (Emmanuelle Beart) and husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) are in Phuket, working at an orphanage, traumatised by the loss of their young son in the big wave. Seeing footage shot in Burma by an aid worker (Julie Dreyfus), Jeanne is convinced that a child in a Manchester United top seen slouching away from the camera is her missing boy, and the reluctant Paul sees no option but to commit to spending money taking a dangerous trip to find out the truth. The couple make contact with shady characters in a Thai dive, and begin the process of being smuggled across the border. Their original mendacious guide is murdered by Thaksin Gao Petch (Osathanugrah), a chin-patched, articulate people-smuggling godfather who calmly offers to help them in their quest, only to attempt to pass off a random village kid in the proper shirt as the boy. Then, Gao takes them to a village inhabited by scarily-quiet male children – maybe angry spirits, maybe feral orphans – in skull-face paint, and things get worse.
The film builds up its background world, as beach kids pelt an adult corpse with stones or glare sullenly at grown-ups, but segues into nightmare as the children roar with laughter at withholding food from a starving old couple who are almost used up as surrogate parents and act more and more spookily ghost-like, while the obsessed Jeanne – who blames her husband for letting their son go – drifts into their headspace. In the climax, she encourages the children to bury Gao alive then stands by as they pin down, eviscerate and eat her husband in 1980s Italian movie-fashion before gathering en masse to smear mud over her naked body in a scene where the trout-lipped Beart’s intense look of evil dares audiences to giggle at the child extras groping her breasts.
The early sequences are jittery and suspenseful, if overfamiliar and borderline racist: the Westerners leave their comfort zone of fund-raising parties and wander through a disorienting maze of Phuket criminality, and Paul keeps dipping into his cash-stash to meet the expenses that keep rising as he is forced to trust blatantly crooked locals. It’s not until Gao and his single goon confess that their own tsunami losses were far more extreme than the Behlmers that the film even acknowledges that locals suffered too. In the third act, Vinyan drops any semblance of realism and goes for jungle hell horror, with monsoon rains, an abandoned castle (!), kids standing eerily (and unbelievably) still in the landscape like threatening ghosts, and extensive cruelty/gore. Du Welz carries over from Calvaire his love of long, showy shots which rise from the grappling folks in the mud to take a detached, overhead view of their miseries. It’s a distinctive touch, but also explains why his horrors are surprisingly unaffecting, as he tends to make his victims and monsters into bugs under a microscope. Beart really gives it some welly, though the dead or missing child as root cause of a failing marriage (introduced into the genre by Don’t Look Now) is now one of the most persistent cliché character shortcuts in horror (cf: Vacancy, Surrogates), adding to a patchwork-of-things-you’ve-seen-before feel which undermines du Welz’s visionary touches and convincing physical nastiness.