Sheitan (Satan) Review
Some months ago, perhaps even a year past, I wondered if the US had issued a rap embargo against France, possibly at some time in the nineties but maybe even extending back into the eighties. It was the sight of MC Tragic or somesuch in the bonus material for Ong-Bak that made the idea of it plausible, he being so hopeless as to recall the days of, in this country, MC Tunes. Or at least I'm assuming Tragic was a he, which might be misplaced confidence given that he rapped in the manner of an experimental rhyming robot developed by a chorus of French professors. Being an academic body with no actual listening experience of rap and having made the decision to power our man with the same innards as drove a VIC-20.
There's plenty more proof of this rap embargo in Sheitan, which I thought might be a misspelling but is actually French for Satan. The film opens with Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly) and Thai (Nico Le Phat Tan) in a club on Christmas Eve, appearing to be celebrating the birth of Jesus by getting drunk and attempting to assault a bouncer. Dressed in the uniform of disaffected youth - round-necked sweater, baggy jeans and a chunky gold necklace - Bart is stumbling around in the club looking for a fight. Or that might just be the attitude that one thinks comes with the hopeless throwing of gang shapes and saying, "Word!", "The party's real fly!" and, "Chill, homie!" I know several long-term residents of retirement homes who are street savvy enough to think twice about strolling about like a member of the Security Of The First World but not so Bart who, you might think, is as surly as he is due to his not getting an LA Raiders baseball cap. Which you'll remember, Ice Cube was rarely seen in anything else once upon a time.
After doing his very best Vanilla Ice, Bart gets thrown out of the club and, sporting a black eye courtesy of a bouncer, gets his friends to join him in a drive out into the countryside to an apparently deserted mansion owned by the parents of Eve (Roxane Mesquida), who have, she tells them, gone away for the holiday. Joining them is Yasmine (Leila Bekhti), Ladj's girlfriend, but things take a turn for the very spooky when a crazy-eyed local (Joseph played by Vincent Cassel) marches straight off the pages of The Inbred Bugle and into their lives, appearing to push their car out of a pothole simply by the giant force he can build up in his wellies. Said loon has a habit of touching himself while looking at Bart but sensing that there's some action elsewhere, Bart sticks around, the movement of his eyes and fingers suggesting that he's calculated only a 20% chance of being buggered by Joseph. These are clearly good enough odds for Bart and getting better when he spots a hot looking young woman with a penchant for heels and a miniskirt on a Christmas morning.
He'd have been well advised to stick with Joseph as said young women would have been more attractive (a) had she never actually turned around and (b) didn't have a habit of masturbating a dog. Poor old Bart - he does tend to attract one's sympathies after a while - looks forlornly at his own limp penis, in which she appears to have no interest. Joseph, on the other hand, hovers nearby with a look that suggests some passing fondness for Bart but which might actually be as a result of head trauma. Things get worse for Bart when a whole cabal of inbred locals suddenly appear, get naked and, pausing for just a second by the randy dog, jump around him in a natural spring. Things get no less peculiar that night as Joseph and Eve treat Bart, Ladj, Yasmine and Thai to a meal but with no more than two or three sips of wine inside him, Joseph treats them all to a story about a young man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a night spent in bed with his own sister. But the devil had the last laugh...that one night would result in a child being born who would be the devil's own. Touching himself once more, punching Bart and laughing a lot more than the story deserves, Joseph couldn't look any less of a loon than if he'd covered his head in syrup and shoved a giant wasp's nest on his head. It's going to be a long night and Bart, in particular, suddenly has a wish to be elsewhere. But they all notice a heavily pregnant woman hiding in the shadows...
Actually, if that is the central thread of Sheitan, then the devil got rather a rum old deal out of Joseph. It's never particularly clear but I'd rather have sex with the randy dog than Joseph's sister/wife, suggesting his deal with the devil is on a financially-astute par with exchanging one's house for a recommended-retail-price-of-10p Cadbury's frog-shaped chocolate Fredo bar. The purple one at that and not the very-slightly-more-exotic yellow Caramel one. Granted Joseph is completely insane but he'd have to be as mad as a box of Jack Russells to see any sense in a transaction like that. Where Eve fits into all this is anyone's guess but she does appear to be related to Joseph and his horrible wife/sister if not doing much more than - lucky Bart! - bedding both Bart and Thai as a means of keeping them in the mansion overnight.
So cheap and tatty I expected the picture to be slightly frayed and curling around the edges, Sheitan is proof that while it might be possible for anyone to make a movie, it's also entirely in one's own hands, if you are in possession of a saw, sharp knife and enough alcohol, to perform brain surgery on one's friends. I certainly wouldn't recommend the latter and in the case of director Kim Chapiron, wouldn't have suggested the former either. Ignoring the not-even-porn-is-this-cheap mistake of using the actor's own names - Thai gets his name from being, well, Thai, which shows a insensitivity towards race that even the BNP would be slightly embarrassed about - Sheitan stretches all the way to a shabby mansion, a goat or two and a very old VW Golf. If you were to count out the contents of your pockets, even to keeping some back for a pint of milk on the way home, you'd have ample change with which to put up the budget for Sheitan. But it's more than that. It's not the financial scrimping that's at fault, more that there's not a single good idea in the film. Straw Dogs gave it its cast of inbred locals, Amityville Horror 2 its brother-and-sister-and-devil action and Monica Belluci, in a very brief appearance, gives it a touch of class. Oh, and the early efforts of LL Cool J gives Sheitan its clear sense of connection with the goings-on in South Central LA.
Oh yes, it's a dreadful film, choosing all the spooky old things that will be familiar even to those who've only ever seen one scary film, that being Disney's interesting little misfire The Watcher In The Woods. A spooky old house, some guff about dolls and Joseph honouring the memory of Bette Davis in his performance, I'd rather, in paying dues to the fate that meets Bart, extract my own eyes with a corkscrew and pin them to a doll than watch this again. And sorry if that gives away a crucial part of the story but if you read this and still intend on getting some value out of Sheitan, you're as misguided in your dealings as Joseph and his weighing up the night-of-sex-with-terrifyingly-ugly-sister/price-of-soul transaction. Bart, gold chain, a likely tendency towards breakdancing at inopportune moments and a liking for Stutter Rap aside, is twice as good looking and not too shabby in bed either I should say.
Tartan have done a fairly reasonable job on Sheitan, which either suggests no favouritism on their part, an inability to tell the good from the bad or a hope bordering on the futile that if they scrub Sheitan up enough, they'll pick up the odd sale from the kind of buyer who picks their discs on the basis of a good cover. Or who likes Monica Belluci. The transfer does look good with only a small but barely noticeable amount of faults on the print but the picture is clear, detail is really quite good and though it does look washed out, that might well be the look that Kim Chapiron was aiming for. In that, Tartan have done a good job on the film and certainly there's nothing as regards the look of the film that gives it a rock-bottom-budget look. Chapiron and Tartan have given Sheitan a reasonably professional look.
Again, the audio options are typical Tartan, being DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS, which might well have gotten progressively better on another film but which have very little between them here. There's a good chance that Sheitan was originally produced with a stereo soundtrack and was buffed up to surround in post-production as there's precious little going on in the rear channels and certainly nothing that a Pro-Logic decoder couldn't have come up with. The usual traits of a reasonable DTS track are there, sounding slightly more open and a little louder but there's not a good deal between them. On the other hand, all three are very good, showing how Tartan have done, once again, a good job with getting this disc to market. Finally, there are English subtitles but these are optional and extend onto the bonus material.
There are only two bonus features on this disc, one of which is a surprisingly good one, being the short film, Vampires (2m59s) that stars Monica Belluci and which plays on the television in the garage that Bart and friends trash and steal from early in the film. This is a nice little pastiche of black-and-white horrors that features a surprise for Santa on visiting a bloodthirsty Belluci. The main bonus feature is a Making Of (23m55s), which begins with Vincent Cassel talking about his meeting with Kourtrajme, the production group behind Sheitan, before going on to cover the usual making-of ground, including the casting of the film, some behind-the-scenes shots of special effects and the filming of a motorbike chase scene that occurs late in the film. Finally, there's also a Trailer (2m01s).
I do apologise for the lateness of this review. Sheitan has been out for some time and though there's always the pressure to upload a review before the release date, it didn't happen in this case. Not that I feel particularly sorry for Tartan, more that as I was watching it, I thought that I ought to post a review as quickly as I could, believing that my efforts would be worthy if I could prevent just one reader from buying this on a whim. I apologise is there's anyone out there who bought this and is now shaking their head at their own foolishness. I had it in my grasp to warn you...but didn't and for that I am sorry.
Continuing a long-standing tradition I have of rounding out a night of Eurovision with a horror film, I followed this year's action in Helsinki with Sheitan. Frankly, I'd rather have had ninety minutes in the company of Scooch and their camp-as-a-row-of-tents flight attendant schtick than this, being a film that I can't ever imagine watching again. In fact, on the night I write this, I'm sitting outside with a beer and in trying to write up the bonus material, I tried to get my laptop to play the disc. And it refused, offering up a, "WinDVD has encountered a problem and needs to close." What it doesn't say is that the problem it came up against was a film that proves Kim Chapiron can no more do horror than Les Fatals Picards, this year's French entry - finished joint twenty-second - can do Eurovision. In this case, I think we should take the computer's word for it. Or, "Word!"