The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)
A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.
Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.
The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.
Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.
Plus there’s dancing!
The entire cast – freaks, every one – is so memorable, so fascinating. Du Welz creates an almost amiable curiosity with each character, although poor Marc’s increasingly horrific circumstances proves that even the biggest sweetheart here is capable of really, seriously bad things.
His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed. So, you know, watch it!
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