No good deed goes unpunished in Bastards

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


January 23-26, RPL Film Theatre
3 out of 5

French cinema can be really bleak. No topic is out of bounds and unhappy endings are the norm, not the exception. Filmmaker Claire Denis, who has explored the horrors of colonialism (White Material) and the darkest corners of human nature (Trouble Every Day), has prospered in this environment.

In the dispiriting (and appropriately named) Bastards, Denis distils depravity to its essence.

Marco (Vincent Lindon) is the captain of a cargo ship who gets word that his brother-in-law has killed himself following some shady deals with a ruthless tycoon named Laporte. Once in Paris, Marco discovers the situation is much worse: his niece is in the hospital with severe sexual trauma, the family business is near bankruptcy and his sister demands retribution.

Thinking of himself as an avenging angel, Marco rents the apartment above Laporte’s and quickly starts an affair with his neglected wife (Chiara Mastroianni). But his revenge tour hits a snag as he discovers human nature is not black and white. In fact, it’s all black.

Bastards works as a simmering thriller — it’s so deliberate one begins to fear there won’t be a payoff. Denis creates a uniquely threatening atmosphere (her Paris looks inhospitable), as if death lurks behind every corner.

As effective as this approach is, it turns the film into a chore, particularly given the filmmaker’s unwillingness to spoon-feed the audience.

This is how subversive Bastards is: Marco goes out of his way to provide his loved ones with a modicum of sanity, yet his efforts go unrecognized. Everybody in this movie prefers to defend their own slice of hell rather than get out of it. We are so conditioned by Hollywood happy endings, the grimness of the conclusion comes as a surprise.

And then Denis pushes the envelope a little further. She must be a joy to be around.



devilsdueDevil’s Due
1 out of 5

It’s a tradition: every January, at least one studio (this year it’s 20th Century Fox) throws its might behind a poorly crafted horror flick they bought cheap.

Say hello to Devil’s Due — an 89-minute Vine video you paid $12 to watch.

Devil’s Due isn’t as awful as, say, The Devil Inside but it’s still an unnecessary rehash of one of the genre’s most stagnant ideas. The twist is in the found footage format… oh, wait. The Last Exorcism already did that.

ANYHOO. A vacuous and camera-happy couple (TV actors Zach Gilford and Allison Miller) spend their honeymoon in Dominican Republic. Because they’re idiots, they agree to go for a ride with a shady cab driver to attend a mysterious party outside the city. YOLO!

Predictably, the wife ends up pregnant with Satan’s spawn. The clueless husband doesn’t figure it out until after the local priest has a massive hemorrhage, strange people park in front of his house and his vegan wife develops a taste for extra rare meat, preferably straight from the source.

Devil’s Due has decent production values and the direction, though dull, is competent. The makers cut their teeth on the unremarkable anthology V/H/S, and basically repeat the same tricks here, only with a larger budget.

In a nutshell, it’s Paranormal Activity with the Antichrist instead of witches. But hey! Devil’s Due has nano-cams. Nano-cams!