2002’s Irreversible, which unfolded in reverse chronological order, and told the brutal story of a vengeful extraction of revenge in the wake of a rape and beating of the protagonist’s girlfriend (the smokin’ hot Monica Belluci, Cassel’s real-life wife). In fact, though, Cassel has been delivering quirky and wickedly subversive performances for years, in fare like The Messenger, The Crimson Rivers, Brotherhood of the Wolf and Read My Lips. (He also had a small but crucial role in Derailed, with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen.)
The ability to “do” wicked or wild rests easily with Cassel, in other words. So perhaps it’s not surprising, something as deliciously demented as the French redneck horror flick Sheitan, co-written and directed by Kim Chapiron, and produced by and starring Cassel. This is a guy who likes to go big, and this is a film that certainly provides ample opportunity for that.
Set on Christmas Eve, the story centers on a group of guys who meet two gorgeous girls who invite them to spend the weekend in the country. They accept, and there they meet creepy housekeeper Joseph (Cassel, displaying a cracked, dirty grin that would disgust even the most hygienically-challenged Brit), an unkempt man who keeps his pregnant wife hidden in the shadows of the large house. What begins innocently enough as Christmas dinner (mmm… goat!) gets turned upside down when conversation turns to sex, satanic possession and incest. Loopy eccentricity gives way to more sinister intent, and the young friends quickly realize that their host has made a perhaps too-literal pact with the devil, and all hell is about to break loose.
Mashing together horror and jet-black humor, Sheitan achieves its inbred creepiness, refreshingly, not through gore, but demented manipulation of image, stunted tone and audience expectation. Though not intricate or fully tricked out, the film is an imaginative art designer’s dream, commingling Dadaist instinct with considerably more grim set-ups (doll parts are strewn everywhere around Joseph’s workshop). Set against the high bar of Cassel’s manic, grade-A gnashing of scenery, the rest of the movie’s performances, unfortunately, are a bit uneven. We don’t get a firm grasp on other characters as more than functional pawns in the service of the narrative.
Sheitan benefits from a middling video transfer — colors are rich and consistent colors and there is very little grain, but the third act in particular suffers from digital blocking and some minor artifact issues. The DVD comes with Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 French language audio tracks, plus the obligatory English subtitles. Apart from a trailer for the film other Tartan releases, the sole bonus feature contained herein is a discursive, 23-minute featurette. Billed as a “making of” documentary, this is true only in part, as Cassel sits for interview footage and we get a bit about the production crew, but footage from some of Kourtrajme’s short films is also folded into the proceedings in a less than smooth and graceful manner. Kudos to length, which trumps the bum’s rush a lot of foreign releases receive on the DVD format, but a bit more ironing out and mannered explication would have been nice. C (Movie) C+ (Disc)