Dir: Eric Valette
Script: Alexandre Charlot, Franck Magnier
Cast: Philippe Laudenbach, Dimitri Rataud, Clovis Cornillac
Bound to a promise to be home foe his son’s birthday, recently imprisoned Carrere plans to escape with or without his cellmates; the colossal transsexual Marcus, cannibalistic simpleton Daisy and elderly prison librarian Lasalles. But the discovery of a hidden grimoire of dark magic incantations, now instrumental to Carrere’s escape, may not the serendipitous blessing it first appears.
Finally released on the Fright Fest Presents DVD label, this low budget French horror compensates for its shortcomings with an intriguing plot and a measured, calculative pacing sorely absent in contemporary horror.
Set predominantly in one cell, albeit across two time periods, Eric Valette uses the film’s evident budgetary restrictions to his advantage, emphasising Maléfique’s slow, drab and claustrophobic Lovecraftian backdrop. A dialogue-driven sense of foreboding amplifies the quaint effects sequences which despite their gruesome inventiveness avoid the snuff movie depravity of the Saw and Hills Have Eyes franchises.
Maléfique remains intriguing throughout, with the unknown cast pushing the film as far as the vague plot and unconvincing design set will allow. At times the dialogue may feel embarrassingly clunky, but the horror genre has seen far, far worse.
Quite how Maléfique slid into obscurity while generic dross like Black Christmas and The Reaping sneak hop to the big screen with terrifying regularity is a mystery worthy of the Twilight Zone, which the film is reminiscent of. The freakish, almost comical final scene feels appropriate and thoughtful.
Alongside Switchblade Romance Maléfique establishes a promising trend in commercial French horrors. The current flood of 70s “revisionings” and Japanese remakes, one of which, ironically, Valette is currently filming (One Missed Call) should take heed.
All in all, a claustrophobic, inspired fantasy horror, innovative enough to compensate for its abundant imperfections and financial limitations.