Left Bank (2008)

Left Bank (or Linkeroever in its native Belgium) is a beautifully shot, ambitious, ultimately a little confused but still striking piece of filmmaking. It’s a slow-burn supernatural horror, which has been compared to classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man and while it never quite manages to reach the promise of those lofty claims, it is a hugely atmospheric, tense and inventive movie.

Marie is a talented athlete, training for a competition in the Netherlands, when she collapses in a shop one day and is subsequently informed by her doctor that her body is in bad shape and that she must rest for a number of weeks. Not knowing quite what to do with herself she moves away from her over-protective Mother and in with her new boyfriend Bobby, to his apartment in Left Bank. Initially, the fledgling relationship is exciting and helps her fragile frame of mind but its not long before Marie meets the neighbours and discovers some unnerving truths about the previous tenants mysterious disappearance. She shrugs the events off as tall tales until she starts suffering from the same headaches and nausea that her neighbours complain of. When she begins to investigate, Marie uncovers things that probably should have remained a mystery and her grip on reality loosens.

First time director, Pieter Van Hees clearly has an eye for a great shot and understands the importance of the artistry in good direction. The movie is packed full of interesting techniques and startling imagery which goes a long way to suggesting that he might be one to watch in the future. Taking a lot of his cues from Asian cinema (if someone had told me this was a Japanese horror remake, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid), he builds on it and creates his own distinct look and feel. There are close-ups, mixed with shaky cam, interspersed with astoundingly beautifully framed landscape shots but throughout, he seems to have hung onto the ‘less is more’ approach with no technique ever feeling tired or over-used.

Eline Kuppens makes for a startlingly watchable but simultaneously unassuming leading lady. She carries the film like a seasoned professional despite being a newcomer, and is ably assisted by the charismatic Matthias Schoenaerts as Bobby.

The storyline itself is solid and interesting enough, although it had me feeling a little baffled at times. I can only assume the misdirection is intended, as Left Bank threw me for a loop and ended somewhere completely different than I could ever have anticipated. It’s this freshness and unpredictability that both hampers and benefits the movie, in equal measure.

Containing some truly graphic sex scenes, the nudity never feels purely gratuitous, instead helping us to build an idea of the much-needed passion that’s been introduced into our protagonist’s normally solitary life. Left Bank is almost completely devoid of blood and gore, instead using disconcerting music and sound effects to help ramp up the tension, which works wonderfully.

Left Bank is chock full of symbolism and theology and is best approached with an open mind but it’s also a surprisingly beautiful movie that will no doubt have you both gripped and thoroughly disoriented, and despite a few inconsistencies and a rather muddled climax, is well worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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