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IN SHORT: A riveting, gripping and gory as need be murder mystery. [Rated R for violence, grisly images and language. 105 minutes]
In French, with Subtitles, though star Jean Reno contributed his part of Cranky Critic® Star Talk in perfect English.
We get asked, rarely but it does happen, why we don't cover more foreign language films than we do. The simple answer is that the average reader of this site doesn't patronize them and rarely reads the pages when we do write up a review. It isn't worth our time and it doesn't generate any income for the time we do put into it, and we are no different from 99% of the other net sites in that cash is at a premium.
So we're going to be as blunt about this as possible. We do see the foreign films as possible and when we see one that is exceptional we will scream about it until we are blue in the face. We'll probably reach purple with this one, a great murder mystery which, despite the subtitles, never failed to hold our attention or keep us from trying (and failing) to figure it all out before the whopper of a surprise ending.
From the opening seconds of The Crimson Rivers, in which maggots and bugs crawl over and/or consume what appears to be a pile of body parts, we knew that there would be some unpleasant moments in this flick. There are, though none of 'em are of the typical slice 'n' dice movie kind (for which we are thankful). The third murder of the flick, in which the body is literally still pumping, is the most repulsive. Then again, every good horror or murder genre movie should have at least a couple of stomach turning moments. In this case, just a couple goes a long, long way.
Twenty years ago, ten year old Judith Herault ran into highway traffic and was literally squashed by a 38-ton truck traveling at 80 mph. Nothing recognizable survived, except a large piece of a finger, salvaged by a hysterical mother who, to this day, swears that demons killed her daughter. Crazy old mom is now Sister Andrée (Dominique Sanda) a reclusive nun in a convent, living in shadows and having no contact with the outside world.
Twenty hours or so ago, give or take, a glaciologist named Fannie Ferreira (Nadia Farès) discovered the naked body of a missing University librarian, bound in a fetal position and hoisted a hundred fifty feet up the side of a glacier. According to the coroner, the man had been tortured: sliced viciously with a carpet knife; legs and arms and ribs broken; hands chopped off by an axe and then cauterized; eyes gouged out and the sockets filled with acid rain. It took five hours for him to die, the coroner estimates, and the man was kept conscious for most of it. He will be the first of three. All will link back to that little girl who died twenty years ago when detective Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel), who is investigating the desecration of her grave accidentally crosses paths with police commissioner Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno).
We spend most of our time in the remote village town of Guernon in the French Alps. Guernon is home to a prestigious private University with a renowned department of genetic sciences. It is also, due to its location and obvious necessity, a unique self-sustaining environment and can remain so for months at a clip. As Niemans investigates the murder, each clue reveals only another mystery. Director Nadia Tass' camera is constantly moving as if searching out clues all on its own. Or, perhaps, it is his way of giving us the POV and leading, or misleading, us.
Professor Philippe Sertys (Olivier Morel), who runs the genetics department will give Niemans a pathological profile of the killer but even that will not help link the bodies to a pattern. How could they? Everyone in town, one way or the other, works for the University. Most are descended from parents who worked for the University. Buried in that last sentence is a clue that leads Niemans to uncover a creepy set of genealogical coincidences that may not be a conspiracy, but are goose-bump producing chilling, to say the least . . . and the least is all we'll say. For those out there who try to figure it all out first, and we're one of you, this film cuts you no slack. There is literally nothing to link the two murders, on the surface. No surviving relatives, other than the mother who is accounted for.
When the surprise ending comes, it is a whopper. Then again, long after we had left the screening room, a bunch of questions about the third act surprise started nagging at us. The eMail wires were buzzing as critics we know were trying to figure it all out and put the entire story into a nice A... B... C... package.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Crimson Rivers, he would have paid . . .
The problems are primarily due to the translation and subtitles but, though there may be a huge logical error in the story, in retrospect, there was nothing so major that we felt cheated the first time through.
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