Kim Chapiron, the co-writer/director of the French horror-comedy Sheitan, heads up a film collective called Kourtrajmé; until this feature, it was responsible for the sort of outré music videos and shorts that screen before underground hipsters and get circulated via the Internet. By the evidence in Sheitan, Chapiron's sensibility exists somewhere in the ballpark of Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) and Harmony Korine (Gummo), a sleazy surrealism populated by backwoods grotesques and choked with aberrant sexuality and extreme violence. Sheitan's action seems calculated to puncture young viewers' seen-it-all apathy and shock them anew with relentlessly nightmarish macabre comedy. In many respects, it's a juvenile exercise in cult pandering, which probably explains why it earned the coveted final slot in the Midnight Madness section of last year's Toronto Film Festival. But it has a trump card in Vincent Cassel, whose grunge chic—so reminiscent of that other Vincent, of The Brown Bunny infamy—has been given a sinister reworking.
The super-charged opening sequence drops in on a nightclub pulsing with turntable beats and young beauties grinding away in booze-and-coke-fueled euphoria. From the din emerges Roxane Mesquida (Fat Girl), a dark-eyed temptress who lures a VW full of horny men—as well as a willing bartender and a half-rabid dog named "Tyson"—to the sort of dilapidated countryside estate that could have housed Miss Havisham, or the Beales of Grey Gardens. Cassel plays the place's caretaker, a constantly grinning, yellow-toothed simp who greets his houseguests with a scary exuberance that's even more disturbed than it initially seems. Cassel has a plan for them that involves his unseen pregnant wife and more doll parts than a Courtney Love video.
Before Sheitan (the word is Persian for "Satan," incidentally) spins off into its inevitable Grand Guignol finale, Chapiron gets a lot of comic mileage out of the contrast between his Parisian club-hoppers and the creepy locals, who are either inbred freaks or coy sexpots. The middle third of the film is by far its strongest and most novel section, highlighted by a piggyback hot-springs fight that strikes the tone of gothic uneasiness which Chapiron tries to capture throughout. Without it, Sheitan would be little more than a filthier Haute Tension.
Key features: In addition to the trailer, the disc includes a making-of documentary that touches on Cassel's involvement in Kourtrajmé's underground cinema.