Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Left Bank" (2008): Yes! Belgian horror!

I cannot highly enough recommend "Left Bank," which came to my attention via the always-reliable Arbogast. He was comparing it favorably to "House of the Devil," and while I would agree that it is far superior to Ti West's snoozefest I'm not sure I'd compare the two. Both involve creepy buildings and a lone girl in peril, but "Left Bank" is unquestionably modern. Which is weird, because it ends up involving some crazy medieval hoorah, but still.

Heroine Marie (Elina Kuppens) is a scrappy, independent-minded young woman living with her divorced mom and spending most of her spare time running: she's training for an international event in Portugal, and her proud coach thinks she has it in the bag. When she gets sick and Portugal becomes out of the question, she's devastated. With a sudden amount of unwanted free time on her hands, she takes up with cute archer Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), and after a night of hot sex, she pulls away from her mom and coach and decides to go recuperate at Bobby's. He's got a sweet apartment on Antwerp's Left Bank, apparently a hip transitional neighborhood, in a huge old building run by his grandmother.

But almost immediately things start to get weird for Marie. Instead of getting better, she suffers headaches, nausea and insomnia; when she tries to go running, she hurts her knee, and it spends the rest of the movie getting darker and purplier and grosser. Her flaky mom comes to visit and starts fussing about weird vibrations and dangerous ley lines. A neighbor tells Marie that the previous tenant of Bobby's apartment was a woman who vanished. Then a package comes for the missing woman; when Marie opens it, she starts learning more about the building than she ever wanted to know.

There are definitely shades of "Rosemary's Baby" here, but unlike fragile Rosemary, Marie stays totally independent and together. I adored her character. She clashes with her parents and coach, but she keeps her head on straight; she asks direct questions, she never starts at shadows, and when things start getting berserk she does the sensible thing and moves the heck back out. She doesn't go creeping timorously down hallways, and you never want to yell "Don't go in there!" You're right along with her the whole way. She's fab.

Marie is also a very physical character -- she's young, her body's always been her ally, she loves running and she enjoys sex -- and I love how this is really key to the ensuing awfulness. Her problems begin when her body turns against her: she's been pushing herself so hard that she's quit menstruating, among other problems. You really feel how much it kills her not to be able to rely on herself anymore. She wants so much to get better, and she can't. And as her hurt knee gets darker and weirder -- eventually sprouting hideous stiff hairs that she tries, sobbing, to yank out -- it all starts to feel like a metaphor for puberty or old age. Transformation turns out to be key to what's happening. I won't give it away, but: brr. See this film!


merricat said...

Hello Cousin Emma -

I wanted to invite you to come watch The Haunting, at definitely abandoned, possibly haunted Linda Vista Hospital, this coming Saturday night 8/21 at 8:00 as my guest - my team is hosting the event. I'll even take you on a tour of the hospital and mental ward following the film.

Let me know - I thought you'd enjoy :) you can find me at

AE said...

My dear and very thoughtful Cousin Merricat! I would LOVE to do this but am not sure if I can. Thank you so much for the kind invitation! Will email you...