With A Friend Like Harry director Dominik Moll tends to wait several years between films, but that might be a deliberate strategy, letting viewers forget his most frequently employed trick: Moll makes movies that look like they're inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, but feel like Luis Buñuel working in high bourgeoisie-baiting mode. In Harry—co-scripted, like the new Lemming, by Gilles Marchand—French everyman Laurent Lucas makes the mistake of befriending a couple (played by Sergi López and Sophie Guillemin) who may as well be taken from his own id. She's all soft curves and bottomless appetites; he makes the hard, sometimes violent choices that Lucas would never make for himself. It's a psychological thriller that's more psychology than thrills, but no less gripping for it.
Lucas' Lemming begins in much the same mold. Then, somewhat regrettably, it drifts off on a stream of dream logic. An engineer charged with creating new home-security systems, Lucas shares a blissful life with wife Charlotte Gainsbourg. They live in a cordoned-off suburb in a perfect house that might as well have been designed to showcase their happiness, and they put their good feelings on display when Lucas' boss (André Dussollier) and wife (Charlotte Rampling) turn up for dinner. But the meal takes a disastrous turn before it even begins: Rampling arrives in a foul mood, eager to fight it out with her husband in front of people she's just met. And then there's the matter of the mysterious blockage in Lucas' kitchen sink.
For every mystery Moll reveals, he drops two in its place. Rampling attributes her unhappiness to Dussollier's philandering, but then tries to do a little of her own by seducing Lucas (a process conducted, like the rest of Rampling's creepy performance, without even the hint of a smile). Lucas unstops the drain and finds it clogged with a hamster-like creature revealed to be, yes, a lemming, with, contrary to popular myth, a seemingly indefatigable will to live.
But not everyone in the cast shares the little creature's feeling, and after a while, Moll's central metaphor takes the film into a surreal realm. That isn't necessarily a bad place, but the film is much more intriguing in its dread-inducing opening half, when Moll's assured direction keeps suggesting that something horrible will be happening soon, then, when it does, that something even more horrifying may follow. He ties it all to Rampling's not-so-innocent question about whether Gainsbourg worries about when her marriage will go sour; the inevitability of that query seems designed to begin the curdling process. In the confidently directed confusion that follows—with its ghosts, dream sequences, and out-of-nowhere convolutions—the film is never quite so sharp, or irresistibly wicked.