If I had the luxury of my own “If You Like This, You’d Also Like This….” feature here, a write-up on the IFC Films-distributed, straight-to-DVD Belgian horror flick Linkeroever (Left Bank) would preface mention of Ti West’s The House of the Devil. West’s inconspicuous descent into ’80s satanism still holds up as one of the year’s best horror films, perhaps even THE tops, once polls are finalized; what makes that film so damn effective is its patience. The House of the Devil saves the anarchy for its final reel, and everything that comes before the endgame insanity justifies the wait. Quiet creeps, gradual earning of sympathy for the heroine. A constant sense of something-just-ain’t-right; you know it’s going to end badly for the main character, a college-aged babysitter tending to a spooky old house in the woods, but it’s all a matter of getting there.
Left Bank, directed by Pieter Van Hees, succeeds on that same level. Budding track star Marie (gifted actress Eline Kuppens; she’s a pro at the woe-is-me face) gets smitten by suave Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), and, against the wishes of her over-protective mother, moves into her new suitor’s Left Bank-located apartment building. The film’s first 80 minutes are entirely dedicated to establishing a mood; it’s understood that Marie is in for something unpleasant, but just what she’s destined to experience is kept in the dark, until an explosion of cult-sacrifice fun.
Van Hees’s pic isn’t as across-the-board triumphant as West’s picture, mainly due to screenwriters Christophe Dirickx and Dimitri Karakatsanis’s story’s all-too-brief and none-too-revealing payoff; that aforementioned explosion is more like a firecracker job. The film has been met with some of the same “Roman Polanski-esque” claims by critics as The House of the Devil, and such lofty compliments aren’t unfounded. Left Bank, in fact, owes more to Polanski than West’s work; Left Bank—-set in a sinister apartment complex that rests above a mysterious black pit, accessible through a dark, dreary basement walkway—–is close in setting to Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. The climax that Van Hees’s film inches toward, a strange exercise in Pagan rebirth rituals, is more in line with The House of the Devil, though, so, in that sense, the film’s aesthetic quality is a curious amalgamation of Polanski and Ti West,. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Hees has never even heard of one Ti West, but he should, because they seem to operate in the same genre headspace.
Left Bank does have its share of problems. The underlying theme, for one, isn’t fully realized, leaving interpretation not only open-ended, but littered with holes that a NJ Transit train could zip through untouched. There’s a midway slideshow presentation that informs Marie and her one ally of the apartment building’s shady history, central to which is some mumbo-jumbo about a woman-eating dragon that lives underneath and devours its latest female every seven years. Thankfully, no fire-breathing Reign of Fire rejects co-star in Left Bank, but the big reveal surrounding Marie’s sketchy lover, Bobby, is nonsensical and too vague; is he somehow connected to the dragon? Why does her assailant look like a lady’s private part during that time of the month (sorry about that)? And does that resemblance connect to the film’s several references to Marie’s troubling inability to have necessary periods?
I’ll leave these questions to the decision(s) of whomever gives Left Bank a chance of their own. Oddly, the film has been overlooked by the various horror websites that typically promote foreign movies of this ilk. Which is a shame, because Left Bank—-mostly a winner despite its narrative trappings—-is certainly worth a gander.
Left Bank trailer, after the jump: