Sunday, August 14, 2011

Film Review: Chamber of Death (2007)

Melanie Laurent
Oh, those arrogant, nervy French! Not only do they make a knock-off of The Silence of the Lambs, but they have the audacity to have one of the characters pull the Thomas Harris book from a shelf and give it a meaningful look.  And then, to top it all off, they actually have the gall to make a better film.

Like The Silence of the Lambs, Chamber of Death is about a killer with a very pervy hobby, but it's also about a kidnapping scheme that goes horribly awry, a dark secret from the past, a petty crime that escalates into murder, and a love affair. In short, this film offers triple the plot of Silence, plus all the requisite tension, horror and drama.

Melanie Laurent,  most well known for Inglorious Basterds, stars as Lucie, a detective and single mother of infant twins who's just recently joined the Dunkirk police. A young girl is found murdered and Lucie and her partner Pierre (Eric Caravaca) take the lead in the investigation. The girl appears to have been killed in a ritual manner, but the detectives soon find out that she was kidnapped for ransom. What they don't know is that the ransom payment was botched when two men on a late night drunken joyride struck and killed the girl's father, who was carrying two million Euros to a drop-off. The two men have the loot, but soon have a falling out. Another girl is kidnapped and Lucie and Pierre are racing against the clock to find her.

I won't try to describe all the twist and turns the plot takes, but the dense, twisty nature of the story is one of this film's main pleasures. The director, Alfred Lot, does an amazing job of juggling multiple storylines, and in the middle of this complicated cat-and-mouse thriller he manages to shoehorn in a sweet and believable romance between Lucie and Pierre.  He also takes time to give some personality to even the most minor of characters.

The acting is uniformly excellent. Laurent is both appealing and believably tough.  She's a bit like a French Sandra Bullock. Special mention goes to Gilles Lellouche who plays one of the men who steal the ransom money. His role is that of a decent man whose life takes one terrible turn, and Lellouche does an excellent job showing his horror and desperation. Lellouche is currently starring in Point Blank (my review here), which is an absolutely kick-ass thriller.

A lot of the credit for Chamber of Death has to go to Franck Thilliez, the co-scriptwriter and author of the novel the script is based on. Thilliez has written more than a few crime novels, but none of them, it seems, have been translated into English. If you go looking for this film take note that it's sometimes titled Melody's Smile. The trailer for the film that I've posted below is, unfortunately, in French only.

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