Today: May 30, 2024

Hors Satan

One of the most interesting things about Hors Satan, or Outside Satan upon translation, is its trailer. The advert for Bruno Dumont’s film suggests to the audience that this will be a troubling and haunting experience akin to the likes of Antichrist. It shows you all the lush scenery that dominates the film and a series of odd images. Overall it looks like an intriguing existential drama that will toil with your emotions. What a shame then that it is a perplexing ordeal, verging on mundane and irrelevancy.

Hors Satan opens with a drifter, known as Le gars, wandering through the French countryside. He occasionally kneels down on his travels, as if to pray to his surroundings. This though, isn’t a one off scene. It’s possible that 80% of this film is of people walking through isolated fields. The first few times you think, “Oh… OK that looks pretty if not slightly washed out”. After about the ninth or tenth time you find yourself losing patience very, very fast. To call it slow would be an understatement.  One of the few good things you can say about this is thank God Hors Satan isn’t as popular of Lord of the Rings, because Kevin Smith would have a field day with it (see Clerks 2 for reference).

In terms of story Hors Satan is a unique look at domestic abuse and murder. Upon his arrival in a village, Le gars quickly befriends a woman called Elle. Elle has been sexually abused by her father and subsequently Le gars kills him. This leads to a crime mystery in which the police are attempting to find the killer with virtually no motif to go on. This bit of the film actually takes place quite far into the background and we never really get to see how the police go about their investigations or the conclusions they come to. Instead, Dumont chooses to follow Le gars and Elle around, whilst they do absolutely nothing apart from have long silences are bizarre sexual urges. Other characters interact with them but are subject to horrifying ordeals.

Bruno Dumont has made a film that is trying to be many things. As previously mentioned it is heavily influence by Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Not only through its sexual exploits and animal horror it also picks up on Von Triers appreciation but overall fear of nature. This is probably Hors Satan’s finest element. Its strong acknowledgement of this regions beauty is truly overwhelming. Reportedly Dumont is from this area of France so he above anyone knows how to produce scene after scene of stunning photography. If anything the film could have gotten away with just being a film built on cinematography with a chilling drama running beside it. Unfortunately though Dumont tries to shoehorn a bemusing religious subtext into proceedings. This is where the film tries to channel Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew. In many ways Dumont has managed to capture the essence of Pasolini’s Christ in Le gars. Both characters wonder around desolate landscapes and interact with whomever they encounter, with the intent of helping them. What differs in the two is that you know Christ’s story and believe his intentions to be good. Le gars, like all of Hors Satan, is so ambiguous and so uninterested in story that you never get a good feeling for what is truly going on or its message.

Although Hors Satan seems to be a fairly straightforward film in terms of plot, it loses itself in preposterous ideas and self indulgence that edges into boredom. There is almost a good and fascinating philosophical film inside of Hors Satan but after 20 minutes of the film doing nothing, you have already lost faith. Usually slow films don’t pose these sort of problems as they can find some beauty or poetry in its convictions. Yet Dumont fails to do anything with anything in this film. What is obviously a very personal project to Dumont has turned into nothing more than a vanity project. There is potentially something really good in here. It’s just a shame that nothing is allowed to break out.

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A nameless drifter (David Dewaele) camps on the desolate beach outside of a small village in Northern France, the locals regarding him with either suspicion or as some sort of quasi-mystic healer. (more…)

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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