Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Therapy

When a child goes missing, it means all hands on deck for a provincial French police force. That just leaves two junior detectives to work a quickly developing serial killer case. Potentially, they could prevent dozens, maybe hundreds of future missing persons. It all seems like a dangerous misallocation of manpower, but this is France. Remember, they never did catch the Pink Panther. Whether they can stop the shadowy killer seen in tape after tape of found footage is a more pressing question in Nathan Ambrosioni’s Therapy (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

A box of tapes is found in an abandoned building near popular a camping site. Normally that would not be so remarkable, but the blood splatterings give them a sense of urgency. As the crime lab converts the various formats (VHS, Go-Pro, 16mm) onto flash-drives, two detectives watch the horror develop. Stephanie, her slightly domineering boyfriend Steven, and three teen relations planned a relaxing weekend getaway, but as Seb, the poorly socialized film student documents, the frequent sound of distant screams quickly casts a pall on the evening. They really should have left when someone breaks into Steven’s car, but instead he waits until the a.m. hours to investigate the sinister squat nearby. That would be the one that was once an insane asylum.

It is tempting to get pedantic over the found footage (why is CSI splicing it together in chronological order and how would they even know it in the first place), but watching it from the helpless perspective of coppers Jane and Simon is pretty creepy. As in his breakout debut Hostile, Ambrosioni, the French horror prodigy, still displays a commanding mastery of mood and tension, but Therapy is a much more conventional and slashery follow-up.

Even though he plays it fast and loose with the found footage conceit, it is still a tough film for thesps to register in. Nevertheless, Nathalie Couturier is quite compelling as the driven Jane. Likewise, Shelly Ward keeps us thoroughly off balance as Abigail Parker, “the witness with a secret.” As part of Ambrosioni’s repertory company, she is becoming quite the cult horror star. Fittingly, Ambrosioni plays Seb—mostly heard rather than seen.

There is no questioning Ambrosioni’s horror mechanics. His use of sound and light to keep veiwers on edge is decidedly impressive. Nevertheless, Therapy just doesn’t hit you on as deep a level as Hostile—and its big twist is not nearly as bracing. Okay, but still something of a sophomore slump in comparison, Therapy had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia.