Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz opens his latest film in a nursing home on the day a traveling song-and-dance artist named Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) arrives to put on a show. We know his name is Marc Stevens because it's embroidered on the purple and gold cape he wears, and printed in large letters on the wall behind him. Stevens' act is somewhere between a performance by Freddy Mercury and a staging of Dracula. He hides behind a poofy, upturned collar and steps out into the audience to paw at old ladies, making love to them with his eyes as he sings. After the show in his dressing room, he allows the most lovesick old bag of bones to come in and meet him, briefly. She immediately confesses an all-consuming passion and tries to take him, right there at the make-up table. Naturally, I thought this wasThe Ordeal the film promised to subject me to, and on that basis I might have given it a five-star review.
However, after that excruciating scene, the film turns a corner into something more conventional and less horrifying than the prospect of octogenarian groupie sex. Marc leaves the gig in his van -- I looked, but couldn't tell if "Marc Stevens" was printed on the side of it -- and then breaks down somewhere in rural French-speaking Belgium. There's nothing but rustic, woodsy scenery as far as the eye can see. Nothing except an odd-looking little man who smushes his face to the driver's side window and asks for help in finding his lost dog, before quickly running away again. What follows is Deliverance with a twist, but the twist isn't executed with any care and the inbred yokels that predictably come crawling out of the woodwork don't come across as very frightening. Compared to the exotica that lurks around the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in the state where I grew up, these guys might as well be E.U. policymakers from Brussels.