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Young French writer-director Alice Winocour has moved from scrutinizing a 19th century “hysterical” neurological case in her 2012 debut film and Cannes Critics’ Week hit Augustine to considering the post-traumatic stress disorder of a Middle East war soldier in her second feature, Maryland (aka Disorder). At the same time, she has endeavored to make a straight-ahead, home invasion thriller, only to inadvertently reveal that she still has a few things to learn if she intends to compete with Hollywood genre films on their own terms.
Still, the moderately tense situations and charismatic turn by Matthias Schoenaerts as the troubled but capable French Special Forces vet should generate decent returns in numerous territories.
The sensitive macho Schoenaerts is pretty much center-screen throughout this sleekly made suspense piece based on a script more loaded with holes than the numerous bad guys he either shoots or stabs to death.
Upon his return from combat to his native South of France, Vincent (Schoenaerts) joins some of his military mates to work party security at an enormous nearby mansion, named Maryland, owned by a Lebanese businessman. Vincent periodically experiences pounding noises in his head and related disorienting sensations and also senses pointedly negative vibes from a guest who behaves aggressively with the host.
The next day, the man of the house abruptly leaves on a two-day trip to Germany but refuses to tell his beautiful trophy wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) what’s going on. In the first significant plot development that proves a bit hard to swallow, Vincent, a complete stranger to the family, is asked to stay on to look after Jessie and the couple’s young son.
The seductive surfaces provide enough innocuous distractions to make a modest claim on the viewer’s attention through the uneventful beginning of the film — the attractive actors, opulent house, fancy party guests and behind-the-scenes peek at how a high-end security team handles a job such as this enticing enough to keep us intrigued. But after about 45 minutes, Vincent and Jessie have barely said anything to one another, and there are few plot-advancing elements other than Vincent’s growing suspicion that Jessie’s husband is mixed up in the arms business.
During a seemingly ill-advised beach outing, the rugged soldier has paranoid fantasies that they’re being followed — impressions that remain fantasies until, lo and behold, they are violently attacked by two thugs in black masks, whom Vincent skillfully dispatches.
At this point, however, the dramatic absurdities begin to pile high. Despite the assault, this rich woman is not offered, nor does she seek, official police protection. She doesn’t even hire extra security. And, against Vincent’s explicit advice, Jessie insists upon staying at her rambling home with him and her kid rather than moving into a hotel or another more secret location. Then there’s the question of what happened to the regular staff? Doesn’t the fact that innumerable private papers have been rifled through and are strewn all over the floor tell her that someone’s been in the house? And there’s not even a panic room. Even the news that her husband has now been arrested is not enough to make Jessie think that something wicked this way comes.
Of course it does as there’s a downpour at night and the electricity goes out. Eventually, Vincent does call an old comrade-in-arms, Denis (Paul Hamy) to lend a hand and make Jessie laugh, but all the dramatic inanities cancel out any real investment in these characters or their fates long before a conclusion that’s as preposterous as anything that’s come before.
Fortunately, Winocour’s way with the camera is considerably more palatable than her screenwriting, so the visuals are pleasurably watchable even if what the characters are doing is silly. The techno score by Gesaffelstein is also lulling.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Production: Dharamsala and Darius Films
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy, Zaid Erroughui-Demonsant, Percy Kemp
Director: Alice Winocour
Screenwriter: Alice Winocour, with the collaboration of Jean-Stephane Bron
Producers: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisne
Director of photography: George Lechaptois
Production designer: Samuel Deshors
Costume designer: Pascaline Chavanne
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Casting: Aurore Broutin
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