Calvaire (2004)

Some people would kill for company

Writer: Fabrice Du Weltz
Director: Fabrice Du Weltz

Calvaire (The Ordeal) is a surreal horror movie from Belgium often described as a cross between Misery (1990) and Deliverance (1972) – personally I’d throw in a hint of a twisted Brigadoon (1954)!

The film centres around flamboyant club singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas, who does a superb job). After a gig at an old people’s home he sets off south in his van for a Christmas booking. On his way he runs into a deep fog and has a problem with his vehicle. With the help of a local man he finds the nearby inn.

The inn has been closed for years and Stevens is the only guest, however the innkeeper seems friendly. In fact he’s far too friendly and really, really doesn’t want Stevens to leave. His only hope of rescue is from the nearby villagers – who are themselves distinctly odd and way too friendly with their farm animals…

This is a film about atmosphere. The weirdness is evident from the very beginning and the whole thing is filed with bizarre characters. The story starts very slowly – too slowly – but Du Weltz’s direction keeps you hooked.

Once things do get going then it quickly turns extremely unpleasant and sexually violent. Eventually it just stops; we never get any real explanations other than the obvious insanity of a village that appears to consist almost entirely of delusional men.

There are plenty of possible ways of reading the story allegorically. Does the heavy fog at the start and end indicate Stevens has moved into some form of nightmare? Is it about the violence of sexually frustrated men? Is it a comment on torture porn with a man taking the role of victim?

Any or all of those could be true. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter – with no significant development of any of these films Calvaire ends up being an extremely classy film about violence. It’s undeniably compelling and there are some wonderful set scenes such as the pub dance. However for me the very slow burn start and lack of background detail to the main story made it ultimately disappointing. There’s a great story in here somewhere, but what we get is a few hints and a lot of unpleasantness, albeit presented with great style.

Calvaire is great as far as it goes, but personally I needed more.