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9th Nov 05
Four prisoners discover a handy black magic book that promises an easy escape from their cell.
The second release from new label Frightfest Presents (see also Dead Meat review) is a slower-paced, but classier affair than the Irish low-budget zombie flick. Building tension right from the off from a very simple premise, Malefique is further proof that all you really need for a good low-budget genre film is a handful of characters, one room and a gun, or in this case, a black magic book from the 1920s.
Carrere (Gérald Laroche) is sent to jail for an undisclosed forgery crime and meets his new cellmates, including Marcus, a butch-bitch dreaming of a sex change and old man Lassalle, who is inside for murdering his wife. Carrere is slowly assimilated into the unit before the fourth prisoner, Marcus’ ‘special friend’ Daisy rejoins the gang after a ‘holiday’ in the infirmary. After a period of settling in, it’s not long before the four prisoners discover a hole in the wall that leads them to finding a diary of a previous prisoner Charles Danver, a killer, from 1920. When Carrere then reads out one of the books incantations to create a flame in Devil imagery, the four cellmates decide to read further and try and use the book to escape from the prison.
Often feeling more like a stage play than a film, Malefique works largely due to a solid cast with intriguing characters that maintain your attention. Although the plot of the film is formulaic (men find magic book, men use magic book, men discover the bad side of magic book), director Eric Valette wisely allows us to see the story from Carrere’s point of view, who as a blue-collar criminal is possibly the one character that we can relate to as an audience. Full of hope and confidence at the beginning of the film due to his supposed wealth and ability to obtain bail, Carrere slowly crumbles throughout the first half until he too, like the other cellmates, becomes increasingly desperate for a way out of their (one-room) incarcerated situation.
Of the other roles, Clovis Cornillac does a good job of the wannabe transsexual Marcus, but it but its Dimitri Rataud who steals the film in an entertainment sense with his portrayal of compulsive-eater Daisy, or Pâquerette as he listed in the credits. First seen having his finger removed (by Marcus) so that he can enjoy a ‘holiday’ in the infirmary, Daisy is like an excitable puppy who eats watches and bugs, wets the bed and makes vagina collages on the wall. Yes, that’s vagina collages. Google that if you dare. Anyway, Daisy also gets one of the best deaths of the film, in two parts no less; first he has his remaining fingers munched by the wall, then he receives a very nasty bone-twisting death whilst levitating.
In fact the opening half of the film is staged so well with interesting character developments and gross dark black humour, that it’s a shame Malefique almost trips over itself to get to it’s Tales of the Unexpected ending. The appearance of the ‘so obviously the Devil’ Hippolyte Picus with his wild red hair and digi-camera feels unnecessary and is a slight distraction (not in the flow of the film), but thankfully we are treated to a nice gory lead-up to the final twist, as Marcus, Lassalle and Carrere all ultimately find (and receive) what they’re looking for. Oh, and if you want to guess the twist ending, then most of you eagle-eyed Action Man viewers will be able to spot it from a mile away.
Almost like a French black-magic prison version of Cube (a similar set-up and motive), Malefique is well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of French movies, Gallic faces and well-characterised oddball characters. Well directed, with some standout gross moments, this film, like the recent Haute Tension proves the French are currently churning out some quality horror.