“Calvaire” – Chris Luedtke

I hold my head in disgrace every time my fingers leave the keyboard. Where did I go wrong again? I’m not even assigned these films; I just seek them out. One would think that any film that has the balls to say it’s a shocker and then be so bold as to compare itself to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have some substance. Calvaire is an outright failure of a horror film, another disappointment and a picture perfect example of how anyone would be jaded about the future genre’s future.

Fabrice Du Welz directs Calvaire, in which mediocre wedding singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) is struggling with his profession. Departing from his devoted fanbase, he decides to spend Christmas in southern France. But as luck would have it, his van breaks down along the way near a small village. A kind innkeeper named Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) takes in Marc and puts him up until he can get his car fixed. However, the longer Marc hangs around, the more Bartel seems to unravel before him. His charity quickly turns to sadness, as he reveals his past as a comedian and a lonely soul — and before long, Bartel will share much more than just casual conversation with Marc.

In its heart, Calvaire is more of a psychological horror film. But the inner workings of the characters becomes less of an issue as the film progresses, as there’s one thing Du Welz never establishes: a reason to care. For the vast majority of the time, I shrugged, picked at my fingernails, cleaned my teeth, and decided I needed a haircut. Abject boredom breeds such thoughts. There’s never a real opportunity to leap into the story. The beginning interested me only because I wanted to know how it was all going to add up. But the further I was dragged through the punishing plot, the less I cared about the end result.

Some films can do a great deal with abandoning sense, and Calvaire treads such a path. We don’t have a reason for Bartel’s insanity other than he’s just lost it. But even after he’s gone off the deep end, he still doesn’t come across as threatening. Berroyer plays his character with a subtle quality that never makes him seem truly evil. Marc just comes across as a guy who just wants to be on his way, a typical schmoe just trying to scrape by. The rest of the villagers are the same as Bartel: they’re crazy, and that’s that. One could say that Marc’s character becomes the story’s true focus, but just suggesting that thought is already giving this train wreck too much credit.

While I’m at it, I might as well suggest that those who’ve heard the film is “bloody” and/or “shocking” to gently place those misconceptions in the nearest convenient wood chipper. Pondering your own journey through such a violent machine provides more entertainment than Calvaire could ever hope to deliver. There is blood but not enough to call it cringe-worthy. The shocks, however…well, there really aren’t any shocks. Nothing even remotely terrifying took place. The film passes off thrills as holding down the “What the Hell?” button for the last twenty minutes until we finally reach an ending (if we can even call it that).

It’s not worth it. Despite what’s been written here, some poor soul is bound to go out and rent or, worse yet, buy this piece of garbage. Calvaire is not a work of art. It’s an unconventional slice of horror, and while people like me have been begging for just that, this just ruins the concept. Avoid it.

Rating: ★☆☆☆

-Chris Luedtke

Read A.J. Hakari’s Calvaire review here.

Leave a Reply