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Monday, April 18, 2016

SHEITAN -- Movie Review by Porfle

While the DVD cover of SHEITAN (2006) is clearly a ripoff of Anthony Hopkins' leering visage as HANNIBAL, I'd be hard-pressed to think of anything that the film itself could be compared to. This French "WTF?"-fest is one seriously, and I mean seriously, deranged movie.

Three unlikable, perpetually-horny party boys--Bart, Ladj, and Thai--get thrown out of a hip-hop club and follow a mysterious girl named Eve (Roxane Mesquida) home to her large family mansion in the country. The club's bartender, a nice Middle Eastern girl named Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti) tags along. The guys lust after the girls and compete for their attentions while Eve goads and teases them.

Into this scene blusters Eve's groundskeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel, BLACK SWAN), a garrulous, overbearing, invasive force of nature who's always grinning like a loon. With his bulging eyes, handlebar moustache, and freakish demeanor, Joseph is a nerve-wracking presence whom the youngsters find alternately fascinating and disturbing. Bart is especially put off when Joseph keeps inviting him to go skinny dipping in a nearly hot spring.

Like a French version of DELIVERANCE or TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, the film places a bunch of city kids in the middle of inbred hillbilly hell and then ratchets up the "weird" factor with each new character and situation.

We know something strange is going on between Joseph and his pregnant sister, whom we never see until later on, and a wild story he tells during their feast of a freshly-slaughtered goat--something about a man who makes a deal with the Devil ("Sheitan") in order to become invincible and then impregnates his sister to create a Devil child--has an uncomfortable ring of truth.

By the time our protagonists finally discover the real reason why they've been invited to the house, all hell has already broken loose and there's nothing left to do but scream.

Much of SEITAN is sneaky build-up, with Joseph and the other locals being weird and the boys vying for the girls' affections (with Eve deviously egging them on). It's intriguing enough that the promise of what's to come sustains interest until a point about three-quarters through when I finally thought to myself, "This is really starting to drag."

It's right about that time, however, that the Sheitan hits the fan and all that build-up suddenly starts paying off like a bank of slot machines.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes of this film are an explosion of mind-bending bizarreness that had me shaking my head in giddy disbelief. I don't want to ruin it by describing it in too much detail, but we finally get to see Joseph at his full power, and we find out what eyeballs have to do with everything, and, last but definitely not least, we meet Joseph's sister. In a word, "yikes."

First-time director Kim Chapiron does a beautiful job of putting all of this on the screen in interesting and dynamic ways, and the highly-capable cast does a convincing job with the characters. Cassell, of course, is the standout as Joseph, having a field day with the role and instantly becoming one of the most fascinating maniacs in genre history.

Alternately shocking, funny, sexy, gory, and incredibly perverse--with a final shot that will be seared into your memory--SHEITAN is one of those movies that seems relatively harmless at first and then knocks you right on your ass.

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