This opens with lovemaking in a sylvan setting … then Patrick (Benjamin Ramon), who has a distinctive thatch of hairiness on the nape of his neck, senses mystically that his lover Elaine (Louise Manteau) has fallen pregnant and walks naked into the woods. Ten years later, little Martin (Victor Dieu) is given to scratching and biting other kids and is peculiarly excited by an anatomy demonstration toy – and single mum Elaine is at the end of her tether, as she keeps losing jobs, friends and sleep because of the kid’s antics. In desperation, she drives him to the estate of his grandparents – who own vineyards in Luxembourg – for help. Martin asks why they’ve never been here before, and Elaine tells him it’s because his father’s family don’t know they exist … though we guess there’s a lot more to the story than that, and the penny has probably dropped (from the title) that Patrick has passed on a particularly aristo curse to his son.
Child and mother are welcomed with some reserved pleasure by upright grandparents Joseph (Marco Lorenzini) and Adrienne (Marja-Leena Junker) … and with simmering fury by ‘uncle’ Jean (Jules Werner), whose Russian wife (Yulia Chernyshkova) is pregnant with a soon-to-be-heir, and servant Carla (Myrian Muller), who turns out not to be what her uniform suggests. At dinner, men and women are offered different menus – and the men in the family undergo various treatments, including injections and spine-straightening corsets, for their inherited condition. ‘Bopi’ wants to teach Martin to hunt – not specifying what – and encourage him to attend mass and study for his first communion, neither of which Elaine is enthusiastic about. And when the kid misbehaves, he’s liable to be caged or chained or strait-jacketed … though that still serves to shape rather than cure his problem. The mystery of what happened to Patrick hovers. As do various other secrets, most of which aren’t exactly surprises – we get early hints of horrors and then some teasing before confirmation of the dreadful situations.
It’s a rich, complicated take on an old gothic tale – arguably, Martin is worse for discovering that he’s an entitled aristocratic bastard than he is when sprouting fur and fangs and gnawing on family friends. The precise set-up that has enabled this dynasty of monstrousness to survive into this century is slowly elucidated – early on, an overheard news item about refugees sets up a later payoff – as Elaine’s sense of fury and injustice builds. It could have worked as a miniseries, since fringe characters like Carla or the trophy wife have their own interesting avenues which aren’t exploited here – and while the main drama is between mother and son, there’s intriguing material about the way the kid’s animal nature prompts him to shift allegiance when there’s an obvious change in the status of who’s the alpha in this pack and the covert story of what Patrick has done to get away from being a monster.