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Sunday, May 17, 2009

EDEN LOG -- DVD review by porfle

Dark, gritty, and downbeat, the French sci-fi/horror thriller EDEN LOG (2007) begins in the depths of the earth with an intriguing mystery that is slowly revealed as the main character fights his way level by level toward the surface. Credit first-time director Franck Vestiel and his co-scripter Pierre Bordage for coming up with something different while still recalling familiar echoes of films past.

Clovis Cornillac plays Tolbiac, a man who wakes up in the wreckage of some huge subterranean facility called Eden Log with no memory of who he is or how he got there. A recorded message cheerfully informs him that workers who have toiled long enough in the dark depths earn the right to ascend to the surface and enjoy the paradise that they've helped to create. But apparently something's gone wrong with this system, as the place is trashed and overrun with hideous attacking mutants.

It all has to do with some huge, weird treelike plant growing upward through the core of Eden Log, from which limitless energy is derived even as its roots emit a viral toxin that turns unsuspecting workers into mutants. A female botanist hiding out on the science level of the facility tells Tolbiac of a revolt which took place when the scientists discovered the dastardly secrets behind Eden Log's methods and tried to publicize them. Together, the two climb toward freedom amidst rampaging mutants and hostile security guards, while the apparently infected Tolbiac shows signs of transforming into a monster himself. Before it's all over, the deepest, darkest secret of all is finally revealed.

Elements of METROPOLIS, 1984, and THX-1138 combine with the look and feel of rusty, crusty sci-fi flicks such as HARDWARE and PITCH BLACK to give EDEN LOG its own unique atmosphere. The set designer must've had a field day creating all this cool futuristic stuff and then trashing it. Some of the found locations are awe-inspiring. Very little CGI is in evidence until the end, making this seem almost like a welcome visual throwback to the good old days. As for the mutants, the masks and body suits are exceptionally well-rendered.

The story's a real page-turner too, stringing us along until the final twist. We experience it through Tolbiac's eyes as he strives to recover his identity and find answers while dealing with the horror of slowly losing his humanity. This is illustrated most effectively in one of the film's best sequences. The botanist removes her protective suit to reveal a beautiful woman--she stops Tolbiac in his tracks. Slowly, they begin to kiss and then passionately make love. During the act, however, we see disturbing flashes of a different reality, in which the woman is struggling, screaming, and Tolbiac is on her like a wild beast. Only too late does his frenzied mind become clear enough for him to realize that he's raping her.

Clovis Cornillac, with his piercing eyes and aggressive physicality, is very effective in the lead role. He reminds me of a young Harris Yulin, which is a good thing. As the botanist, the beautiful Vimala Pons makes a strong impression and I wish her part had been larger. Director Vestiel keeps the action moving at a fast clip, giving us little time to catch our breath along the way. Composers Alex and Willie Cort├ęs contribute one of those evocative ambient scores that I wouldn't mind having in my CD player.

The DVD is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound. There's an English-language soundtrack with Spanish captions available. If you click "Special Features" you get the original French soundtrack, which comes with both English and Spanish captions.

Which language you listen to while watching the movie isn't all that important, actually. There isn't much dialogue, and the visuals recall some of the best qualities of classic silent films such as METROPOLIS, right down to the expressive acting styles of the two leads and a deliberate dearth of color. But as derivative as it may sound, EDEN LOG stands on its own as a unique and haunting piece of imaginative filmmaking.

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