Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to a movie, which I can prove because I seriously have been meaning to see this movie SHEITAN since it was the hot new horror movie out of France, and that was 11 years ago!
It’s about a group of young horny deadbeats – Bart (Olivier Barthelemy, MESRINE PART 2: PUBLIC ENEMY #1), Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan, no other credits) and Ladj (Ladj Ly, OUR DAY WILL COME) – who go clubbing on Christmas Eve Eve. They have no money and might get kicked out for not buying drinks, and they hassle their poor bartender friend Yasmine (Leila Bekhti, MESRINE PART 1: KILLER INSTINCT, A PROPHET) trying to get freebies. Bart is the biggest pain in the ass though because he hits on a girl who’s with her boyfriend, calls her an “ugly skank” when she won’t give him her phone number, ends up starting a fight and getting hit over the head with a bottle by a bouncer before getting thrown out. Well deserved.
But Yasmine introduced them to her childhood friend Eve (Roxane Mesquida, RUBBER) who sexy-dances with Thai and is super hot so these doofuses are all sniffing around her and are very amenable when she suggests “We can go to my place, in the country.” And they don’t know they’re in a horror movie, so they don’t know NEVER GO TO ANYBODY’S PLACE OUT IN THE COUNTRY. EVER!
They drive all night and shortly after they pull up the dirt road they meet Eve’s weird, jolly housekeeper Joseph (Vincent Cassel in a performance sandwiched between OCEAN’S TWELVE/DERAILED on one side and OCEAN’S THIRTEEN/EASTERN PROMISES on the other). He shakes all of their hands except for Algerian Yasmine – he caresses her chin and says, “Ah, camel rider.” A different set of values out here, it seems.
But it’s mainly Bart who he will make feel uncomfortable throughout the movie. Joseph and his family live in the house where they’re staying, and he’s always all up in Bart’s face smiling and pounding him on the back, trying to get him to drink milk straight out of a goat’s udder (and then squirt it on his pant leg when he doesn’t), or to say he wants to fuck Jeanne (Julie-Marie Parmentier, FAREWELL, MY QUEEN) before announcing “She’s my niece!”, or to go skinnydipping in a hot spring. Bart is not a polite guest and has no idea how to turn him down while humoring him. It’s always gotta be pouting and swatting him away and stuff.
Joseph creates a full catalog of reasons to squirm. Some of it is normal country vs. city folk tension like he gets their car unstuck from mud after Bart declares it impossible, he yells at Bart for killing a snake, etc. But some of it is horrendous social situations. When he does convince them to go out to the hot springs, he doesn’t warn them that his skinny inbred looking kids/friends/something are gonna jump in naked with them and all the girls are gonna climb up on the guy’s shoulders and pressure Bart to ride on Joseph’s shoulders while they do some kind of Thunderdome fighting game in the water and the kids are gonna play a game where they pretend to gang rape Jeanne and they all laugh about it. Any good host knows to give a heads up about that kinda stuff.
And there’s the incident at dinner when the friends are debating whether or not God exists. Joseph stays out of it at first and you wonder if he’s offended by Bart’s stubborn atheism. Then he boisterously voices his agreement with what Ladj says but casually calls him two racial slurs in the process. Also he laughingly tell a suspiciously autobiographical sounding story about a guy fucking his sister.
To be fair, Joseph does have to be uncomfortable himself in the hilarious scene where he pretends not to hate the music they listen to in the car.
At the time SHEITAN probly seemed kinda flashy and hyperkinetic. It’s the only horror movie I’ve seen that opens with a DJ scratching, and the title on the label of one of the records, and it has little Guy-Ritchie-type stylistic digressions such as a comically sped-up flashback when Bart tells a disgusting sex story. This kind of stuff makes certain filmgoers call a genre movie refreshing and exciting while a maybe larger group turn their noses up. But years later it doesn’t seem like much.
If you demand cutting to the chase though (both literally and figuratively, I guess), it’s gonna be a problem. Like WOLF CREEK, you gotta go to the club with them and stuff before they even meet any scary people. And they’re arguably even worse than the characters in HOSTEL as far as being total dickheads. I mean, I don’t see anything wrong with Yasmine, but Ladj is two-timing her and turns coward at the end. Bart is immediately hate-able, a total loser who, among other things, gropes a sleeping friend, sneaks into Eve’s bedroom and smells the crotch of her pajamas, whines to Thai that he should “give me a piece of that,” kicks a goat, doesn’t seem bothered when he accidentally pees all over several rolls of fresh toilet paper rolls next to the toilet… the list could go on. And Thai is almost worse because he’s just as misogynistic and demonstrates his fucking technique on a pillow and does promise Bart “a bite” and looks through Eve’s belongings and private photos, speculating to Bart that she might have “a soft pussy,” etc., but the friends don’t make fun of him for being a loser like they do to Bart. These are not even charming assholes, they’re just assholes.
But I think Barthelemy somehow manages to make dumbass Bart ever so slightly sympathetic. He’s so constantly shit on by everybody, and his punchable face is already so beat up, and you watch this sadsack kinda stuck there with his friends who are having way more fun than him and mocking him whenever he voices his legitimate worries about Joseph being a psycho. A little part of me started to think “Poor guy. Maybe it’s not his fault he’s so shitty.”
There’s definitely a morality tale in here somewhere in this clash between amoral city youth and a maybe satanic rural dude representing some perverted old fashioned way of life. In the opening at the Club Styxx (biblical reference), the sweaty, hyperactive DJ (Mouloud Achour, a journalist and TV host who has also been in the CLASH OF THE TITANS and POINT BREAK remakes) declares that they’re all there partying because they don’t care about holidays. Ladj and Yasmine are Muslim, the former is disgusted by meat and the latter warns that “the Sheitan” (the Devil) is all around, but Bart thinks they’re hypocrites because they sell alcohol and smoke spliffs. The closest Bart and Thai get to believing anything is rapping along with a group also called “Sheitan” who seem to be the N.W.A of militant Islamic preachiness, storming down the street with guns, smashing cars, screaming “Put out yo blunt, protect yo rump, it’s warfare, punk!” to the “Barbarian bastards!”
But there’s a crucial moment (THAT MEANS THIS IS A SPOILER HERE) when Bart and Ladj manage to escape in a car, and they pass Yasmine on the road. Ladj is driving and Bart makes him stop the car, but Ladj doesn’t want to wait for her, and tells Bart to get out if he wants to help her. Bart cannot believe what he’s hearing.
Look at him. Bart, of all people, hearing this, looking like he can’t even process somebody behaving this way. Cut to the car driving away and Bart standing on the road, shoulders hunched, the world’s shittiest guy to have made the heroic choice.
I’m not saying give him a medal, but it’s a good moment for him. It seems to me that when it truly matters, the avowed atheist who says he doesn’t give a fuck about anything has made a moral decisio,n while the pious one who lectured him has punked out like a coward. Not that anybody’s gonna be rewarded for doing the right thing in this movie.
First-time director Kim Chapiron (writing with his dad Christian) doesn’t structure it quite like a normal horror experience. It’s lots of character and buildup with a burst of holy-shit insanity at the end, but not an extended stalking sequence or anything normal like that. Well, I guess the conflict lasts long enough for there to be a brief motorcycle chase involved. If you need some traditionalism, there are tons of creepy dolls and mannequins in the house. You get some TOURIST TRAP in there. But you also get stuff like SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Vincent Cassel sticking his crotch in the face of his sister, played by Vincent Cassel END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER. So there is some novelty involved.
This is a very un-Christmasy Christmas horror movie. It does have some snow, but no holiday imagery. This makes it a stronger contender for year-round enjoyment and a weaker one for annual seasonal viewing. But I think it speaks a little to agnostic types like myself who enjoy holidays and even applying meaning to them without being religious. You don’t have to believe in the Sheitan to not want to be like him.
But mostly this is a movie you watch for a topnotch Cassel performance. The crazy eyes, the cartoonish ways he moves, the croaky voice – it’s a thorough transformation long before his feverish peak of licking pregnant bellies and poking out eyeballs and shit. He is hilarious and disgusting and creepy and absolutely mega.
I love this character Joseph because he seems like some goat farmer friend of Tin Tin’s crossed with the hitchhiker in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. In fact his method of pressuring Bart is very much in the tradition of that Edwin Neal character taking an unsolicited photo of Franklin and then trying to get him to pay money for it, or asking him if he likes headcheese. Smiling big and nodding and trying to get him to agree to things he’s clearly not comfortable with.
On the basis of Cassel’s extravagant facial expressions alone I have no choice but to recommend SHEITAN.
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Merry Christmas and holidays and days off and what not, everybody! I expect to post once or twice next week and then get back to the usual striving for excellence in 2018.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.