Waitress Katic makes a bet with some customers that she can walk around a graveyard three times at midnight without getting scared. It’s a bet that has terrifying consequences for Katic and her entire family in Marie Vandelannoote’s French horror short “Le Linceul”.
The current trend of horror movies in modern French cinema often takes the form of a newly coined subgenre known as ‘New French Extremity’. This differentiates itself from more mainstream depictions of horror and suspense by focusing less on the supernatural and more on the brutality and extreme violence of modern day human nature.
French director Marie Vandelannoote’s new thirty-minute short “Le Linceul”, which translates as The Shroud in English, goes back to basics to give us old-fashioned Gothic horror, which compared to the current French and Hollywood gorefests over the past two decades is very much a welcome relief.
Le Linceul is a film that depends on characters, atmosphere and a sense of mounting dread and, although it isn’t a particularly great example of the genre, it is a very good effort.
Trained by recent movies, you would assume that Le Linceul is filled with, violent shocks, blood-curdling apparitions, undulating staircases, telescoping corridors, graves, doors that will not lock or will not open, and dialogue like “There’s something in this house!” Well, you would be right about most of that. This is a film that is dark and atmospheric, but it’s also quiet and brooding.
It has less in common with, ‘IT’ than with “Hereditary” as it is not an effects-laden jumpfest but a patient waiting game, in which an atmosphere of dread slowly envelops the characters. Although it starts really well by creating tension through the little things that are happening, what lets the film down slightly is when it deviates from this path and goes for the big and obvious scares.
The film takes place in an isolated Inn close to a graveyard in a French village and, although no time or date given, the characters are all in period dress and use candles to light their way around their property. The Inn is owned by Yanael (Damien Boisseau) and his wife Adenora (Anne-Helene Orvelin) while their headstrong niece Katic (Julia Gratens) works as a waitress.
To the Inn one night come two of Yanael’s friends to play their regular poker game and, as time goes on and drink is consumed, at midnight Katic makes a bet with them that she can walk around the graveyard 3 times without getting scared. While taking on the challenge in the graveyard, Katic discovers an old shroud. Thinking it’s her challengers’ idea of a joke, she brings it back to the Inn with her. As things begin to go bump in the night, everyone realises that this was a very bad idea.
The film’s events are elusive and mysterious, reported by some, not seen by others, explained first one way and then another. By the time we arrive at the line “There is something after me!” we are not only prepared to agree but also suspect that it is also very supernatural.
Director Vandelannoote, has the patience to create a languorous, dreamy atmosphere, and Julie Gratens succeeds in convincing us that she is a normal person in a disturbing situation and not just a standard-issue horror movie hysteric. But in drawing out her effects, Vandelannoote is a little too confident that her style, although very good, can substitute for substance.
The malevolent presence is never adequately explained, we know it wants its shroud, but what is it? Why is it there? What can it gain from the hapless Katic? These questions are never answered and in the end, it simply becomes a plot device to generate startling noises appear unexpectedly and to look spooky in the dark. In short, it’s only purpose is to make the audience jump and we are left feeling a little short-changed.
For 18 minutes Le Linceul is a masterclass in slow-burning psychological horror but sadly it loses its way somewhat in the final third. To top off our frustration, there is the strange choice of music to play over the end credits. It is a song that is so at odds with the delicate period film we have just watched that it really sticks out and unfortunately not in a good way. All that said though La Linceul is a fine film certainly worth watching though, by the end of the short, we remember more the negative aspects of the final ten minutes as opposed to the positive aspects from the first twenty.