It has been six months since the devastating tsunami that hit Southern Asia, causing much loss of life which included the child of the Bellmers, Paul (Rufus Sewell) and Jeanne (Emmanuelle Béart). However, she is not so sure that the little boy is dead at all, and they have stayed on in South East Asia to continue to search for him as his body was never found. When they go to a charity fundraiser for orphans, a video that the guests are shown stops Jeanne in her tracks: surely one shot shows her son standing in the background? Fired up with renewed enthusiasm for her quest, she drags Paul along with her...
Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz followed up his cult horror film Calvaire with this similarly obscure and unusual offering, only this time he took his team further afield to a different continent and some extremely picturesque views. Paul and Jeanne's destination is Burma, where they are convinced that there is a village hidden in the jungle where their son must be, but they have to take a Heart of Darkness-style trip into the unknown, though not to meet any Colonel Kurtz-like figure, for after a while it emerges that Jeanne fills that role very adequately. Yes, her grief has sent her crazy, and she doesn't even conceal her psychosis too well.
At least not from us watching, as Paul is in some kind of denial for a good part of the movie as to precisely how twisted her thoughts have become. They're obviously a wealthy couple, as he is able to splash the cash to whoever asks him to whenever it appears as though they have a new lead, so yes, we're in yet another Third World thriller where life is cheap and you can get what you want for a price. Except that Du Welz takes this in an interesting direction, with the usual clichés of the Westerners buying their way through unfamiliar territory subverted so that it is they, and not the locals, who represent the bigger danger to themselves. Sounds like it should be very engrossing, doesn't it?
It sounds that way, yet as it plays out what should have been gripping ends up lukewarm as far as the thrills go, perhaps because the characters are drawn from stock, and when they are put under pressure they simply go that movie way of madness that places the audience at a distance from their thoughts and emotions. Béart is the one who gets to do all the twitchy and spacey stuff, a role she fulfills with her customary dedication, but we never get under the skin of Jeanne, she simply runs on railway tracks from obsession to outright craziness, not bothering to stop at any station along the way and actually not having much nuance in the script available to her, very much a one note personality.
Sewell also does his best with another underwritten part, but the approach here is more concerned with conjuring up a dreamlike atmosphere that could tip over into nightmare at any given moment, so pretty much everyone here is playing a "type". That said, Petch Osathanugrah, in his first and only film, plays the guide the Bellmers enact a game of tug of war with over who is exploiting whom with commendable flair, suggesting he knows more than he is letting on while accusing, in a roundabout way, this Western couple of selfishness when they don't care a jot abut how many Asians were killed in the disaster as long as they can head off on their wild goose chase. After a while, a depiction of children as little beasts to be feared in a Lord of the Flies manner makes itself plain, as the Bellmers do indeed find a tribe of feral kids left behind after the catastrophe stranded them, but the resolution is too silly and solves little. Still, it does look very good, even if it won't do much for tourism. Music by François Eudes.