In the early 00’s, the New French Extremity Movement was well underway. Horror was going back to its transgressive routes and addressing various taboos that not only reflected the anger and frustration within the political climate of the country, but it also forced viewers to question how much they were willing to see.
‘Calvaire’, AKA ‘The Ordeal’, is a story that hides its disturbing nature underneath a few layers of simplicity, implied violence, and hysteria. A traveling entertainer named Marc is on his way home for Christmas when his van breaks down in the middle of a desolate town filled with strange inhabitants. At first, he’s completely unaware of the situation he’s landed himself in, but he does quickly become conscious to the fact that he hasn’t seen a single woman in this town. Things get weirder and weirder when the owner of the Inn that took him in for the night, who provided him with a night of alcohol and laughter, seems to avoid the question of fixing his van as he had promised. And things get even weirder when he decides to completely destroy the van and hold Marc hostage and change his name.
This is a film that really just eats away at you from underneath the skin. Unlike most New French Extremity titles, the on-screen violence is rather scarce – yet blisteringly effective when it does happen – instead, the disturbing horror mostly leans onto the hostage-situation we are forced into, as well as how unhinged these town’s inhabitants prove to be, and the eerie effectiveness of the sound design. The question is eventually raised as to whether or not this town’s hysteria is contagious, but you are left to create your own answers.
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, especially a few scenes involving a bloodied Marc wandering through the woods during a thick fog, or the candlelit dinner scenes that feel like something from “Barry Lyndon”.
I would honestly say this is one of the more tame entries in the NFE list, but don’t let that throw you off from the fact that this is still a harrowing journey that makes you feel helpless and confused. Since there are no females present whatsoever once we enter this little town, you can almost imagine what horrors await. It’s very slow and meditative, but it’s painful to watch and impossible to scrub off afterwards. Consider yourself lucky if you don’t end up squealing like a pig at various points within it…
“Calvaire” is currently streaming on Shudder.
‘Til Next Time,
Your source for everything horror