IFS Review: No Easy Answers In The Disturbing French Thriller VICTIMS

Brian Clark, European Editor
Victims is an intriguing, disturbing indie thriller from France, one which uses a tense relationship between a seemingly well-meaning therapist and his patient to examine the darkest recesses of the human psyche. While the film isn't perfect, it is bleak, thought-provoking and appropriately twisted, and it definitely establishes director Robin Entreinger (who also wrote, shot and edited) as a unique talent to watch. At the same time, it's a tough film, one which will likely alienate many viewers with it's slow-burn, dialogue-driven approach and refusal tie anything up neatly.

The film begins with the first meeting between Vincent, a psychiatrist, and Francis, his new patient. Francis is anti-social, insecure and very likely a sociopath, but, at the same time, he's completely honest about all of his compulsions, and hey, at least he's trying to get help.

But, while the therapy seems to be getting Francis more in touch with his true self, his true self is actually awful, and much more dangerous to others than his repressed self. Vincent begins to suspect that his patient is potentially dangerous, but, as I imagine must happen often with psychiatrist, he's not sure how dangerous, and also not positive that the case merits police intervention.

But is that the whole story? Simply listening to Francis discuss his damaged psyche -- and the way it seems to become more damaged each day -- is gripping stuff. As with any psychological thriller, our interest in the film is directly proportionate to our curiosity of how just how fucked up and crazy the protagonist will get, and what exactly makes him/her tick. Who is to say the psychiatrist, also an audience of sorts, doesn't feel the same way?

As Vincent begins to drift away from his wife and spend his free time searching the snuff porn websites that Francis frequents -- in order to better help him, of course -- this suggestion becomes more and more plausible. Victims builds slowly to its inevitable, violent conclusion, layering questions like these over each other through tense counseling scenes and revealing glimpses of each character's home life.

It's the type of story that would make Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma grin, but stylistically, it's far removed from either of these visual masters. The film is shot on a shoe-string budget, with an modest, unapologetic video aesthetic and little in the way of production value.

However the budget limitations, or rather, how Entreinger chooses to employ them, actually work in the film's favor. The stripped-down aesthetic forces our attention towards the characters, and it's from close attention to what they say and how they act that the intriguing ambiguity and suspense emerge. Most films use showy aesthetics to put the audience into the minds of the characters, but Entreinger realizes that sometimes it's actually more effective to leave the psychosis to the audience's imagination.

While the tech aspects may bother some, I was actually impressed with the way Entreinger shunned a glossy, commercial aesthetic that would have probably served his "career" better in favor of a less accessible one that works for the story.

It's only during the last ten minutes that the film falters, especially during a protracted scene where one character spells out much of what we've already inferred. Also, while part of the final conclusion is disturbing and extremely well-directed, the film ends with a coda of sorts that I found both a bit too vague and, assuming I understood it, not quite as profound or provocative as it should have been. Still, there's a lot to savor about Victims, and the penetrating questions it poses about repression, obsession and psychosis linger much longer in the mind than its missteps.

Victims screens tonight (April 2, 2013) at the IFS Film Festival in Los Angeles.  
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