The Ordeal (2004)
By: Devon B. on August 13, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.50:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 2.0, French DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 87 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Starring: Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Jean-Luc Couchard, Philippe Nahon
Screenplay: Fabrice Du Welz, Romain Protat
Music:Vincent Cahay
Tagline: Some people would kill for company.
Country: Belgium/France
AKA: Calvaire
The Ordeal was originally called Calvaire, which translates to "martyrdom." While this may not seem like the worst re-titling in the history of foreign cinema, the original title brings a whole new meaning to the film. Maybe Belgian black comedies are a target for inappropriate renaming by distributors, as the superb and underrated (by those who've only seen the censored version, anyway) C'est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous (It Happened in Your Neighbourhood) was oddly rechristened Man Bites Dog.

The Ordeal is the story of a low rent cabaret singer heading to a Christmas gig. Yes, this is a Christmas movie. Pour some eggnog, break out the mistletoe, hunker down with the family in front of the tele, and wait for Santa while this film spreads some Yuletide cheer. Anyway, the singer gets lost in some foggy, wet woods, and then his van snuffs it. Stranded, the singer winds up at a closed local inn. At first the innkeepers seems overly helpful, towing the van back to the inn and offering to try and fix it. But something is not right with the innkeeper, and it seems the other locals might be even more messed up. It's clear straight away that the innkeeper's mad, but his obsession is genuinely shocking in its extremes (or, depending on your interpretation, the final twist is quite shocking).

For some reason, The Ordeal was granted an MA by the OFLC, despite a rather mean spirited bestiality scene. It's not as graphic as the boar fucking in Mountain of the Cannibal God, but it's far creepier. The Ordeal has some violence, but I think what has unsettled many viewers is the absolutely bleak, pitch black comedy. Scenes are played out to be so uncomfortable they are funny, like The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm gone terribly wrong…or should that be gone even worse?

The Ordeal features good use of widescreen, and the cinematography is excellent. The visuals are strong, often with great chiaroscuro, so even while the viewer is somewhat ahead of the plot, the imagery keeps the film engaging.

The film has many tributes to 70s cinema, and has drawn comparison to Straw Dogs and Deliverance. I'd say both films were a big influence, and another major one noted on the slick is Misery. However, I couldn't help but compare the film to Sonny Boy, as well. Even the idea of a mixture of those four films might not prepare one for the utter bizarreness that actually plays out in The Ordeal.
Video
The film is presented at 2.50:1 in a 16x9 enhanced print. The picture is sharp, with only the rare spot or speck. There is some grain, but it may be intentional as it gives the images depth. Aside from a few shots of some fog, the grain is not distracting at all. There were a few digital glitches on the disc, but that may be my cheap ass player.
Audio
The Ordeal comes with English subs, with Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 French tracks. That's Belgian French, for those of you in Canada; Africa; or, indeed, France. On both tracks, the sound is well mixed and at an appropriate level, with dialogue clear. The 5.1 mix is used appropriately, with wind swirling, water rushing by, and action sequences playing out across the sound scape.
Extra Features
The specific extras are the film's trailer and a nearly 30 minute making of. The making of seems like a Belgian TV special. The focal point of the making of is a lengthy interview with writer/director Fabrice Du Welz. He breaks down quite a lot of info and has some very interesting things to say of his film, making this is handy little feature.

As for your standard advertisements…I mean, extras in the form of trailers, we get the anti-piracy ad (can't wait to see the feature length); a trailer for Immortal, which looks like an inferior Night Watch; Ju-On; The Eye; and Kwaidan, that Japanese film that has some wonderful moments but is tragically slow.
The Verdict
Good direction, deliberate packing, and darkly uncomfortable humour create a solid film here. Regardless, it would be hard to not recommend checking out a movie that features what has to be the most bizarre dance number ever committed to celluloid.
Movie Score
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