'Savage' ('Les Fauves'): Film Review

Carole Bethuel/Kazak Productions
Too tame.

Lily-Rose Depp headlines writer-director Vincent Mariette's second feature, which co-stars Laurent Lafitte, Aloise Sauvage and Camille Cottin.

An intriguing semi-horror flick that’s neither frightening nor particularly haunting, Savage (Les Fauves) reps a missed opportunity for writer-director Vincent Mariette, whose debut feature, Fool Circle, achieved minor cult status in France back in 2014.

Starring model-actress Lily-Rose Depp as a teenager whose summer vacation is upended by a disappearance, a creepy older writer and a leopard on the loose in the neighboring woods, the film tosses around some interesting ideas and tons of atmosphere, but everything is so low-key that it never gets under your skin. After a small release at home, Savage should lurk around VOD and streaming platforms.

Much more suggestive than scary, the script (which Mariette co-wrote with Marie Amachoukeli) seems to pay homage to Cat People and other evocative B-movies where the monster is always just out of sight — less seen than heard or felt, and more of a monster from within.

In this case, we’re dealing with a leopard (Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man immediately comes to mind) haunting the camping ground where Laura (Rose-Depp), along with her cousins Anne (Aloise Sauvage) and Loic (Lucas Moreau), has hunkered down for the holidays. No sooner does the vacation kick off than Laura crosses paths with the dangerous beast, after which a young man (Eugene Marcuse) goes missing during their first date.

All trails seem to lead to the feline — the French title of the film means “big cats” — but when Laura breaks into the house of a local novelist, Paul (Laurent Lafitte, in full freaky perv mode), and discovers some strange things in his fridge, the plot thickens.

But unfortunately not enough, with Mariette’s muted storytelling incapable of rousing the tiniest bit of tension, and with laconic performances by an otherwise strong cast who act like they were administered sedatives throughout the production. It’s as if the director were purposely avoiding emotions or suspense, which is too bad because his film has a vaguely Lynchian vibe that feels unexploited.

Cinematographer Georges Lechaptois (Planetarium) delivers a few memorable images, such as a shot of animal carcasses floating in a swimming pool (again, echoes of Tourneur) and a handful of sequences set inside the caves of Dordogne, where some of the earliest prehistoric art was discovered, in Lascaux and elsewhere.

Indeed, the filmmakers seem to be implying something about the primal tendencies of man, whether in Laura’s attraction to Paul or in the latter’s attempts to mimic the leopard with a pair of homemade claws. Yet too much here is left unsaid or unseen or just underplayed, and nothing really leaps out at you the way it should. Savage simply isn’t fierce enough.

Production company: Kazak Productions
Cast: Lily-Rose Depp, Laurent Lafitte, Aloise Sauvage, Camille Cottin, Baya Kasmi, Jonas Bloquet
Director: Vincent Mariette
Screenwriters: Vincent Mariette, Marie Amachoukeli
Producer: Amaury Ovise
Director of photography: George Lechaptois
Production designer: Pascal Le Guellec
Costume designer: Julie Brones
Editor: Mathilde Van de Moortel
Composers: Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine
Casting director: Aurelie Guichard
Sales: Elle Driver

In French
83 minutes