The enigmatically-named French writer-director Quarxx begins on a lonely, misty mountain road with a crashed car and dazed motorist Nathan (Hugo Dillon) encountering strangely calm Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj – also the piper in The Piper). Yes, it’s a ‘we didn’t survive the crash’ moment, and the contrasting newly-dead souls banter a bit before two gateways appear – one to the sound of harps and choirs, the other to the sound of screams. So, one is blameless and saved and the other … not so much. Actually, a little girl who was also in the accident wanders in, this isn’t quite the simple call it seems.
Not the least of the paradoxes in the film is that one of the few kindly, merciful acts performed by any of the characters involves one guy literally kicking the other through the portal to Hell … which turns out to be grey wasteland a lot like the final limbo characters wander into at the end of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. In that movie, the shrivelled corpses littering the landscape were set-dressing but Quarxx uses them as a way of turning Pandemonium into an anthology picture, insetting the tales of two very different, but equally blighted sets of characters … near-sociopathic child Nina (Manon Maindivide) blithely plays in a mansion where her murdered parents lie, sometimes bossing about deformed ‘Tony the Monster’ (Carl Lafôret), who lives in the basement and is fed strawberry toast as a substitute for the red stuff he shamefully really wants … and distracted lawyer Julia (Ophélia Kolb) who tries to maintain a relationship with her teenage daughter Chloé (Sidwell Weber), who is dead in a bathtub with her own hellish flashbacks to brutal school bullying.
Are these stories supposed to be ‘real’ or just additional torments heaped on the not-exactly-blameless-but-still-entitled-to-complain-about-excessive-punishment protagonist? Quarxx eventually pulls back from our newly damned soul’s plight to show that even the approved demonic torturers of Hell have to answer for thoughtless, impulsive crimes as the round of dog eating dog continues forever (the tagline is ‘Hell knows no forgiveness’). Yes, it’s very bleak … but sometimes slyly, wryly witty and almost always poised and beautiful in a glistening, hard, extremely French manner (with imaginative, unusual creature design too). A calm, measured work of extreme horror – with a clutch of excellent performances – tiny Maindivide is a huge find, as one of the most terrifying yet believable monster-angel little girls in the movies, and Dillon puts himself through a lot.