Ordeal (The)
R0 - United Kingdom - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (7th June 2006).
The Film

Creepy dense wooded areas, seemingly friendly villager that are actually insane, moody lighting and torture and violence are all staples of the horror genre, most especially the creepy dense wooded areas. Films such as Evil Dead (1981), The Blaire Witch Project (1999), Cabin Fever (2002), Haute Tension (2003) and the forthcoming and obviously titled The Woods (2006) all throw their characters into the locale filled with tree life that seem to have creepy, twisted finger-like branches and are almost always bare of leaves and general foliage-all the more to scare you with or course. Director Fabrice Du Welz is well aware of this horror cliché and uses it to full effect here in his first feature film The Ordeal (or as it’s originally known in French speaking countries Calvaire), drawing his lead character Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) deeper into the woods of Belgium only to encounter a friendly old man-and soon discovers that friendly old man isn’t so friendly.
The Ordeal tells the story of Marc, a profession singer and entertainer who, while driving to his next job is sidetracked when his van breaks down. He encounters Boris (Jean Luc Couchard) a local man searching for his missing dog Bella. Boris agrees to help Marc and directs him to a local inn, run by Paul Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). Marc rents a room for the night. The next day Bartel helps Marc by towing his van to the inn and agrees to fix it. The repair takes longer than expected and Marc begins to think that Bartel doesn’t want him to leave, and soon enough discovers the reason behind his captivity.
As I mentioned above Du Welz uses the woods setting cliché, which is effectively sets the mood, but the true horror isn’t the woods itself, it’s not as much a character as it is in The Blaire Witch Project or Evil Dead the film’s true ‘scare’ strength is in its actual characters, primarily Bartel. The seemingly friendly inn keeper who eventually turns out being a totally delusional psycho, this is achieved progressively as the story evolves and unfolds, you immediately get the feeling that something will go sour (which is unavoidable, considering it’s a horror) despite our expectation, the manifestation of his delusion is unpredictable (I’ll refrain from revealing what that manifestation is so as not to spoil the film). Considering that predictability is the bane of many horrors this comes as a welcomed and refreshing change. Berroyer’s portrayal of Bartel is next to brilliant, he presents himself as a lonely and sad figure that viewers can sympathies with, that relationship with the audience is then turned upside-down once we goes mental and you’re not sure whether you want to continue rooting for him or completely abandon your sympathy.
Lucas’ take on the protagonist Marc Stevens is equally impressive, the extroverted performer suddenly retreats inside of him given his situation, and his motivations change from needing a place to stay and simply getting far from the inn as humanly possible, but even that proves a difficult challenge. His ultimate breakdown is one of the single best acting moments in the film and I applaud Du Welz for taking his time and not rushing anything, because the result is entirely realistic.
As commented in his interview on this DVD, Du Welz also plays around with religious themes, which, not unlike the woods locale, isn’t entirely uncommon in horror films. Films such as The Exorcists (1973) and The Omen (1976) have used the religious angle to wrangle up some scares; in the case of The Ordeal it’s primarily the crucifixion. Marc’s character is not only tortured and raped but nailed to a cross in order to prevent escape; the use of religious imagery adds another layer to the overall horror of the film, if only because you can imagine what that must feel like.
The Ordeal is a very good entry into the horror genre and displays the talent a filmmaker like Du Welz clearly possesses, he’s crafted a well acted character driven film that manages to scare and leave one with an overwhelming sense to never explore the Belgian countryside, something that I assume didn’t bode well with that county’s tourism board.

Video

Presented in 2.50:1, this anamorphic widescreen transfer appears to be a direct port of the French release, the package states 2.35:1 but closer measurement makes it out to be 2.50:1, I’m not sure if this is the director’s intended ratio. For the most part the transfer is quite solid, the image is sharp and colors are suitably dulled, blacks are bold, shadow detail is consistent throughout, although I did spot some film grain within the image but this all adds to the visual style of the film and does not distract the viewer. I could not spot any evidence of edge-enhancement or any compression artefacts.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this release, all of which are in French. We have a DTS 5.1 surround track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS sound track. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, as expected. I was pleased with the atmosphere created by the film’s surrounds and music, it totally immerses the viewer in this horror, subtle directional surrounds are put to good use in the rear speakers that help create a sense of depth. This is a great track and I could not find any major flaws with it, the only thing that could possibly make this track any better was if it was full bit rate DTS ES.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, they were easy to read and didn’t not disappear off screen too quickly, I could not spot any spelling or grammatical errors, which is always nice.

Extras

First we have director Fabrice Du Welz‘s 1999 short film entitled Quand on est amoureux c'est merveilleux presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. The film tells the story of a lonely woman who orders a stripper for her birthday only to kill him and keep his corpse as a companion. It’s an interesting and ultimately disturbing film that showcases the filmmaker’s love of everything horrific. The film runs for 18 minutes 47 seconds.

Next up is an interview with the director which runs for 26 minutes 5 seconds, in it he discusses various topics ranging from the writing process he undertook for the film, comments on the horror clichés and religious clichés he chose to experiment with. He also speaks about the choice of using his home country of Belgium as his location, casting Laurent Lucas in the lead and what he brought to the role. He also talks about the film’s ending and his relationship with Gaspar Noe. He comments on the visual style of the film and the progressive use of the color red as a motif in helping create a mood for the film. Near the end of the interview he discusses the reaction and criticism the film received in his home country. Du Welz does provide some interesting thoughts however sometimes it’s a little hard to understand him as his English is mired by a heavy Belgian/French accent.

Following that is the film’s original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 36 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is a booklet that features liner notes from film critic Leslie Felperin and a chapter listing.

Tartan have gone out of their way to include some interesting extras, however these are ultimately brief, an audio commentary will always make a welcomed addition (as seen on the French DVD), this disc does not include one, but the interview with the director makes for a decent substitution.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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