Behind the Walls (Derriere les murs): Cannes Review

Colette meets Craven in this benign 3D chiller.

There's practically nothing eerie about French duo Julien Lacombe's and Pascal Sid's psychologically-bent 3D horror film.

Billed as the first French horror movie in 3D – and definitely the only one centered around a Laudanum-addicted femme writer in the 1920s – Behind the Walls (Derriere les murs) is a bizarre attempt to insert frights into an otherwise classic, and rather depressing, tale of provincial abandon. Novelty interest should accompany film’s July local release, followed by the usual ancillary action.

Model turned actress Laetitia Casta (The Island) stars as Suzanne, a Parisian novelist who, following her daughter’s death from illness, decides to isolate herself in a country manor to work on a new book. Haunted by visions of the dead child, which are heavily abetted by her nightly cocktail of pastis and liquid opium, Suzanne’s hallucinations begin to take on frightening (at least for her) proportions, while her novel starts resembling Jack Nicholson’s opus in The Shining.

When she’s not flipping out at home, Suzanne makes acquaintance with some creepy country folk, including a perverted shopkeeper (Jacques Bonnaffee) who likes to beat his wife to show Suzanne how much he digs her. She also takes interest in a local girl, Valentine (Emma Ninucci), who’s a stand-in for her deceased daughter. When Valentine and another village girl go missing, Suzanne goes truly bonkers, and only her brawny new boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic) can perhaps save the day.

There’s practically nothing eerie about freshman duo Julien Lacombe’s and Pascal Sid’s psychologically-bent story, which provides a tad too many Renoir-esque strolls through the countryside to ever feel menacing. When the filmmakers try to play their horror hand, they resort to predictable tactics like rats scampering across the floorboards or the ghostly presence of little girls (see The Shining, again), while 3D adds zero intensity.

Despite its many drawbacks, the film is somewhat sustained by Casta’s credible performance as a grieving, tortured mother, and one ultimately wonders if Behind the Walls would have been worked better as straightforward drama, sans scares but with a few more narrative snares.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Market
Sales: Roissy Films
Production companies: Sombrero Films, Appaloosa Films
Cast: Laetitia Casta, Thierry Neuvic, Jacques Bonnaffe, Roger Dumas, Anne Benoit, Anne Loiret, Emma Ninucci
Directors-screenwriters: Julien Lacombe, Pascal Sid
Producers: Alain Benguigui, Thomas Verhaeghe
Director of photography: Nicholas Massart
Production designer: William Abello
Music: David Reyes
Costume designers: Cecile Dulac, Chouchane Abello-Tcherpachian
Editor: Richard Marizy
No rating, 87 minutes