Cannibal (2011)

When loner Max (Nicolas Gob) finds a bloodied young woman (Helena Coppejans) in the woods, he brings her to his isolated cabin to check if she’s okay. What starts is a very bizarre relationship between the amnesiac victim and her shy savoir, but slowly it becomes that age old tale of “agoraphobic boy finds amnesiac girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with girl, girl turns out to be a cannibal psychopath, gangsters are hunting girl”. You know the story…

Cannibal certainly has an original concept at its core and it keeps you intrigued and guessing throughout, mostly thanks to Helena Coppejans’s captivating and disturbing performance as cannibal Bianca. She seamlessly mixes alluring and dangerous, and her untrustworthy eyes flood the screen with dark suggestion.

Being a people-shy agoraphobic means Max is incredibly poor at relating to others, but you begin to realise exactly where this fear comes from when his shady past is gradually revealed, and how his colourful woodland house is eons away from the gritty horror that is the city he once called home. Pimps, gangsters, scum, whores and gun-runners litter the streets and Max must trudge back into that world to save Bianca… with horrifyingly violent consequences.

Benjamin Viré’s direction is always interesting, and as the film progresses it gradually gets grittier and nastier as we follow Max on his horrible journey back into a world he had long left behind. There are some bizarre artistic choices on offer here too; when Bianca is kidnapped the film turns black n’ white, as if the new-found colour in Max’s world has disappeared with her. It’s a strange choice, unexpected, but ultimately a thought-provoking one that works fantastically well.

Viré’s script is also excellent, the dialogue sharp and the story constantly surprising. It is an incredibly intimate piece for a film with such an in-yer-face title. Viré should be very proud of Cannibal – as a debut feature it’s exceptional.

The major overriding issue with Cannibal is the character of Max. Although brilliantly played by Nicolas Gob, Max is a strange man with a real fear of intimacy and poor communication skills, so he’s genuinely difficult to empathise with. Once he helps Bianca kill strangers, he also becomes hard to sympathize with. It doesn’t make the film less captivating, but it makes you care less about his journey and their fate. It is a tale of abnormal and horrifying love; enjoyable but not as moving as it could’ve – and perhaps should’ve – been.

Overall Cannibal is artistically excellent, very well acted and utterly watchable. Let down by some hard-to-like characterisations, it is still a superb debut from French filmmaker Benjamin Viré and definitely worth watching.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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