"In 1922, a young novelist goes to the countryside to write her latest book and falls victim to terrifying hallucinations and nightmares."
With everyone else frantically writing about "Paranormal Activity 4" today, I thought I'd provide an alternative in the form of "Behind the Walls 3D". It's not that I recommend it over "Paranormal Activity 4" in any way, but I've waited a long time to say something about it, and it seems appropriate for my "Hallowe'en Countdown".
Let me just forewarn you that I generally love French horror movies. I usually don't care how bad they are or how much of their stories make absolutely no sense. Having said that, I really don't have anything good to tell you about "Behind the Walls" because I barely had the patience to sit through it. "Behind the Walls" is, without doubt, one of the most boring movie experiences ever unleashed upon the unsuspecting public.
The warning signs were there before I even started watching the DVD. Just about any movie which is directed and written by the same people tends to be a low-budget abomination, and adding 3D on top of that almost always guarantees a turd. I hoped it wouldn't be so, but I was proven right on both counts. In spite of "Behind the Walls" being the first French live-action feature shot in 3D, the sparse 3D moments add very little to a story which is handled so ineptly that it almost makes no sense at all.
From the promotional blurb and French websites, I mistakenly believed that "Behind the Walls" was going to be a period version of "Half Light" but with an even more attractive actress in. Superficially, "Behind the Walls" and "Half Light" both deal with the loss of an author's child and that same author retreating into an isolated place to write her next novel. That's where the similarities end.
"Behind the Walls" isn't really a ghost story or a thriller except that it has elements of both which are used as confusing red herrings. The unfurling drama is mainly about our author, Suzanne (Laetitia Casta), mixing drugs into her drinks and getting crazier while the local villagers blame her for all their troubles. When a couple of their daughters disappear, it reminds them of the last outsider who came to live in the area and a series of unsolved child murders. It sounds a lot like "The Reflecting Skin" too, doesn't it? Trust me, it isn't.
The only reason to watch "Behind the Walls" is to ogle Laetitia Casta. She was a Victoria's Secret model before becoming an actress, but you can't really hold that against her. She can actually act a bit although she's a bit dour-looking and far from perfect. Depending on the angle she's filmed from, she's also reminiscent of several Hollywood actresses whose names I can't quite remember. In other words, she's a "type" rather than a star.
The French are such great copyists, and they know what sells. Even Laetitia's love interest in "Behind the Walls" is an "Antonio Banderas type" by the name of Thierry Neuvic. Again, he's not a bad actor, but you won't see him outside of French cinema or TV either.
You might as well give up on the plot since all the good stuff involving an underground lair which Suzanne's cat, Zola, accidentally discovers is quite unimportant except in how it highlights the state of our heroine's mind. When Suzanne moves her typewriter to that spooky place to write her Lovecraftian novel, of course, it's very creepy and full of supernatural shenanigans, but it's all in her head.
Everything is about coincidences, people jumping to conclusions with the minimum of circumstantial evidence, and ignoring what is right in front of them. That is except for the local pervert/mid-life crisis guy who becomes dangerously obsessed with Suzanne, and, of course, her Antonio Banderas lookalike boyfriend who gives her a gratuitous diddling before setting off to play detective in another village.
One scene which reeks of plagiarism (however unlikely it may be) is when Suzanne is in a bathtub surrounded by rats. Although the old porcelain bathtub reminded me of the posters for "Slither", Teeth" and "What Lies Beneath", the scene obviously owed most to the first of these and simply swapped alien bugs for a horde of rodents.
Without spoiling the ending for you (as if you'll ever be silly enough to watch this anyway), let me just say that my overwhelming thought when the credits came up was, "What the bloody Hell did I just watch?" I've tried to put it together for the purpose of this review, but I may be completely wrong about what the directors, Julien Lacombe and Pascal Sid, were trying to achieve.
"Behind the Walls" has some beautiful locations, is nicely filmed, the sparseness of the setting works in its favour, and the costumes are spot-on, but it lacks a cohesive and involving story. It's not a traditional ghost story, and it may have a deeper meaning about French national guilt or some such tripe which is way above my head, but it's just as likely to be only a badly made movie.