Bad Seeds (Comme Un Homme): Film Review

Bad Seeds Still - H 2012
Patrick Muller

Bad Seeds Still - H 2012

Offbeat psychological thriller provides plenty of atmosphere within a far-fetched plot.

Safy Nebbou's thriller, starring Charles and Emile Berling, follows a high school principal and his teenage son who get involved in a kidnapping of an English teacher.

PARIS -- A bizarre amalgam of psychological thriller, family tragedy and Haneke-style teensploitation flick, Bad Seeds (Comme un homme) attempts to be many films at once, but never quite flowers into a credible whole. Nonetheless, this relatively intriguing and well-realized effort from genre-jumping director Safy Nebbou (Dumas, Mark of an Angel) has enough appeal to warrant minor art house and ancillary play following its mid-August French release.

Adapted from a 1970s novel by Boileau-Narcejac (the duo behind Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and Hitchcock’s Vertigo), the film stars real life father-son actors Charles Berling (Summer Hours) and Emile Berling (A Christmas Tale) as a high school principal and his wayward teenage son, Louis, who we quickly learn is involved in a rather dubious extracurricular activity: the kidnapping of an English teacher, Camille (Sarah Stern), under the guise of his troubled best buddy, Greg (Kevin Azais).

Bounding, gagging and eventually sequestering their victim in a remote log cabin, the two seem to lack any real motivation (passing mention is made of a previous altercation between Greg and Camille) beyond the desire to do something evil. But just when the film seems to be headed into Funny Games territory, Nebbou and regular co-writer Gilles Taurand switch gears, introducing a backstory involving Louis’ mother, who we learn died in a car accident a few years prior, casting a shadow of doom and gloom over the household.

When Greg gets in a near-fatal crash on the very same road (talk about coincidences), Louis is left to deal with Camille on his own, and his actions throw a new light on the problematic relationship he shares with his dad—a man who buries himself in books and Beethoven to avoid the awful truth about his crumbling household.

It’s certainly a strange form of family therapy that Les Berlings have chosen to undergo here, but you’ve got to give them credit for participating – and performing quite well – in a project as offbeat as this one. Lucky for them, Nebbou has the chops to provide a steady dose of suspense up through the closing act, with Pierre Cottereau’s cool widescreen cinematography adding plenty of atmosphere, especially in the misty swamplands where much of the drama plays out.

Where Bad Seeds doesn’t quite work is in its constant plot shifts, oscillating between icy adolescent antics and deeper emotional content, to the point that one never quite knows what sort of movie is being played out. But as “tweeners” go, the tone is stable enough, and the craft solid enough, to make for a laudable attempt at crossing various genre boundaries toward unexplored terrains.

Production companies: Diaphana Films, Samsa Film, Artemis Productions, France 3 Cinema
Cast: Emile Berling, Charles Berling, Sarah Stern, Kevin Azais
Director: Safy Nebbou
Screenwriters: Safy Nebbou, Gilles Taurand, based on the novel L’age bete by Boileau-Narcejac
Producer: Michel Saint-Jean
Director of photography: Pierre Cottereau
Production designer: Cyril Gomez-Mathieu
Music: Jerome Reuter
Costume designer: Magdalena Labuz
Editor: Bernard Sasia
Sales: Memento Films International
No rating, 93 minutes.