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FILM REVIEW: Calvaire (2004)

Calvaire - Re-release Review

Director: Fabrice du Welz

Starring: Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Jean-Luc Couchard, Phillipe Nahon

Written by: Romain Protat, Fabrice du Welz

Produced by: Michael Gentile, Eddy Géradon-Luyckx, Vincent Tavier

Cinematography by: Benoît Debie

Original Score by: Vincent Cahay


A traveling entertainer is on his way home for Christmas when his van breaks down in the middle of a jerkwater town with some strange inhabitants.


Fabrice Du Welz' debut feature film is still as shocking and perverse now as it was when it was first released. A European cult classic that is tough to watch at times in the same vein as 'Deliverance' and 'Straw Dogs'.

Laurent Lucas plays Marc Stevens, a mediocre singer whose usual audience consists of the lonely and the elderly who frequent local social clubs and retirement homes. He's popular with the crowds and manages to garner up some level of stardom but he's destined to remain an ordinary cabaret entertainer rather than a superstar.

It's Christmas Eve and Marc is travelling down a remote, countryside road in the backwoods of rural Belgium when his van breaks down. Making his way to the nearest building seekng assistance, Marc bumps into Mr. Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), a classic handyman with a strange aura, who offers Marc a room while he works on his van. But soon we find out that Mr. Bartel is more than just strange, he's dangerous.

After his initial eagerness to help, Bartel begins acting bizarrely before taking an axe to Marc's van then setting it ablaze and knocking Marc out. When Marc comes to his hands are bound together with wire and he is wearing a dress. Marc is about to have a very bad couple of days.

Bartel believes Marc is his wife Gloria, who had previously up and left the farm some time ago and now he plans on making Gloria suffer for her deception and promiscuity, firstly by psychological embarrassment and torment then by physical and sexual torture.

'Calvaire' is, like the title suggests, as much of an ordeal for us the viewers as it is for Marc, the victim. It is a deeply nightmarish experience with distressing imagery all gorgeously shot by Benoît Debie. There's no ghosts, or monsters, or anything supernatural, or even axe-wielding psycho killers, yet the horror is just as dreadful because it slowly creeps up on you. For approximately 45 minutes the gradual build draws you in and you know something terrible is about to happen. Despite its barbarism, the brutality that occurs often happens just off screen or is cut short, which makes it eerily worse because you have to rethink what you actually saw. One instance where this happened to me involved bestiality. There's an overhead shot involving a squealing pig that gave me nightmares just because of the way it was shot and tracked.

Perhaps not quite as viscerally upsetting as say, some of the most infamous works of Gaspar Noé, 'Calvaire' remains a harrowing and torturous, off-beat arthouse quasi horror film that is difficult to forget.

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

- Gavin Logan

'Calvaire' is on Digital Platforms from September 19th

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