Aquarium (2004)
By: Julian on June 6, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Redemption (UK). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). French DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 66 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Frédéric Grousset
Starring: Karen Bruere, Abel Divol, Capucine Mandeau, Julien Masdoua
Screenplay: Frédéric Grousset, Jean Mach
Country: France
External Links
Purchase IMDB
I'm not too sure how to review this one.

First, it would be necessary to categorise Aquarium. At 66 minutes, it's a short feature but it's hardly the gut-puncher you'd expect from a psychological thriller of such duration – it plays out like a two, three-hour slow-burner of its ilk, which is hardly a good thing. The first (and, to date, last) feature of Frenchman Frédéric Grousset is touted on the cover slick as "a cross between an Orwellian nightmare and Saw", and those elements within the film actually prove to be quasi-plagiaristic as we see the events unfold.

Released in the same year as Saw, Grousset's film will hammer the gongs of déjà vu for any viewer who has seen the torture-porn series. The synopsis: a group of people unknown to each other rouse from a drug-induced slumber in a locked room, with a mysterious voice commanding them from a PA system. The first challenge is a game of Simon Says at their captor's instruction. Before gameplay commences, six ground rules are laid out:

Article 1 – Whoever violates the regulations will be severely punished.

Article 2 – The occupants must take part in the activities of the residence.

Article 3 – Whoever refuses to take part in an activity will be executed and removed from the residence.

Article 4 – Whoever sabotages an activity will be executed and removed from the residence.

Article 5 – The occupant failing one of the activities will be executed and removed from the residence.

Article 6 – The occupant passing all of the activities will be released.

A broken directive, and gas quickly seeps into the closed off room (laughing gas, no less, a nice touch), knocking the occupants out cold. In sweeps a pair of white-clad villains and the offender is killed and taken away. The game recommences.

Without giving too much of the relatively tight plotting away, let it be said that everyone involved with Aquarium should be sued out of existence. The discernible differences between this and Saw are barely there, and Aquarium's twist (though it's more just like a crux to the proceedings) is pretty tenuous, not to mention entirely trite. But credit where it's due: while Aquarium isn't well made, nor particularly well acted, there's an undeniably disturbing element to the picture that, coupled with the super-low budget aesthetic, works in a grimy sort of a way. The Russian roulette scene is fairly jarring, but Grousset too often works off the principle that less-is-more, doing some frustrating camera shying that not so much increases the audience's interest as hair-tearingly blue-balls them.

Aquarium is probably best described as an experimental film, and Grousset tries out a variety of editorial and directorial techniques in realising his picture. Some work, most don't – and for those who like this sort of thing, there might be something of interest here. It certainly did nothing for me. I say avoid.
Video
Aquarium is presented in the 1:85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is not 16:9 enhanced. The picture itself is sub-par, with plenty of grain and the colours are as dull as dishwater.
Audio
Disappointing, but predictable. One French 2.0 track that suffered from some serious mixing issues. English subtitles are provided.
Extra Features
A paltry four-minute making-of (a blessing in disguise; anything longer may have proven too arduous a reviewing chore to handle), a trailer and a few remedial poster and art galleries. Those interested in Grousset's work might find value in two of the short films included by the director, Emergency Stop and Shit, running 8 and 5 minutes respectively. They're trippy, pretentious, faux-arthouse numbers and I detested them both.
The Verdict
Films like these are often as good as the viewer's tolerance to them. It's maddeningly slow in parts (Grousset's time to experiment, it seems), and this 66-minute pseudo-feature could have easily been pared down to a good thirty-minute short. If you've seen Saw or its sequels, you've seen this– and you've seen it executed much better.
Movie Score
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