A scenario that’s cropped up in a few horror movies lately – cf: Livide, Don’t Breathe – has a band of young, inexperienced thieves break into a big old house for what seems like an easy score, and then finding the residents have more nasty secrets than cash and valuables on hand and having to fight to get out in one piece. Julius Berg, a French filmmaker adapting a bande dessinee into English, sticks closely to this template, though the tipping point (which also involves a change of aspect ratio) comes fairly late in the day after being foreshadowed by everything from the title and poster to a lot of randomly-placed backstory stuff.
The set-up is that slow-witted, clingy Terry (Andtew Ellis) has told his long-term best mate Nathan (Ian Kenny) that the local doctor – for whom Terry’s Mum (Stacha Hicks) is charlady – has a big safe in his large house, which prompts new-in-the-village wired-up headcase Gaz (Jake Curran) to insist on a break-in … complicated by the fact that Nathan’s girlfriend Mary (Maisie Williams) shows up and wants the car she’s lent him (which the gang of tossers want for a getaway vehicle) back so she can get to work. Once in the house, the loot isn’t easily accessed and Gaz runs around smashing things, then insists they wait till the owners, Dr Richard Huggins (Sylvester McCoy) and his wife Ellen (Rita Tushingham), come home, whereupon Nathan will just have to torture the combination to the safe in the cellar out of them. Of course, things escalate – with quite a nice irony in that the characters who seem to have the most qualms end up doing all the things the absolute maniac in their midst would do, only with survival rather than profit as an end.
The script (by Berg and Geoff Cox) overloads things. Williams’ Mary must set some sort of record for the number of indignities suffered in one evening even by a horror movie character – literally everyone else in the cast gets to be awful to her at some point. Also, mutterings about the Huggins’ dead daughter and Mary’s runaway twin sister hint strongly at the kind of secrets which will tumble out over the evening.
I’ve got tired of films where people are tied up and tortured, but this has a few new wrinkles and is sparing on the gore (though there’s one very effective bludgeoning shock). McCoy and Tushingham, veterans whose screen careers must have seemed unlikely to intersect, manage creepy, cracked dignity under the circumstances, with Tushingham’s Ellen going one better than even Bette Davis in her grand guignol grand dame phase by performing a major horror scene with her false teeth out. Set in the 1990s, with clunky mobile phones and a VHS player, it has a believable small English village feel which takes a little of the edge off a kind of ruthlessness more commonly found in French extreme horror.