A viscous, energetic vivisection of family values and friendship, Sheitan is a well crafted, visually arresting but ultimately unsatisfying movie. Comprised of several individual scenes of dark genius, offering both explicit shock and emotional friction, this film is, at best, an emotionally intensive, explosive series of loosely unconnected shocks. Filled with such taboo breaking excesses as bloody babies dropping from insane pregnant women, in-breeding, and Yuletide sacrifices, this unsettling picture is a celebration of depravity. Unfortunately, it's narrative plot and structure is just as insane, keeping our interest without allowing us any closure. While this is certainly frightening (uncertainty is a sad fact of life after all), it is no substitute for a plot capable of reaching a satisfying climax. Appearing incomplete in either its conception or delivery, the movie lacks unity of incidents and characterization. This uneasy marriage between believable, shockingly violent set-pieces (draped in down-beat, genuinely creepy atmosphere) and scattered plot-points lack a fathomable reason/motivation for all the madness. Thankfully, the intensity of its pace, grimness of its philosophy, and skill of its direction -- not to mention disturbing performances -- inject enough personality and visceral bravado into the splatter to warrant a look. For while the film offers no true motivation for its characters, content to float adrift a sea of the inexplicable, the beautifully bruised atmosphere of poverty, filth, and emotional bankruptcy is truly awe-inspiring.

A selection at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, Sheitan wraps its primal story of survival, betrayal, and violence in the thematic richness of occult legends and possession. Merging dark humor, irreverent attitude, and rough eroticism with legends of the tempter (the Sheitan), a cross-comparative term for Satan, this loosely structured plot connects its episodes of violence with a satanic parable, lending the grimy settings/performances a deeper emotional resonance. French director Kim Chapiron's story features a group of young, rebellious young men who meet two girls at a club on Christmas Eve. Invited to spend the weekend in one of the girl's country home, they soon meet Joseph ( Vincent Cassel) -- the best performance of the film -- a filthy, unstable man who hides his pregnant wife (also his sister), in a large house. What begins as the boy's search for sex becomes a gruelling nightmare as Christmas dinner transforms into a living hell of bizarre sexual teasing, religious parable, and hyper violence. Joseph, having made a pact with the devil, wishes to use some of his guest's body parts for the assemblage of a weird doll, all in honor of the birth of his unholy son (for what reason, we never find out, nor who the principle maniacs are to one another) . . .

An undeniably original descent into psychological horror and abuse, Sheitan is unable to express completely its bold existential premise. This stylistic attack against audience expectation is a gory, nerve-shattering exercise in emotional helplessness ands betrayal. In disquieting scenes ranging from the graphically violent and erotic to the emotionally scathing, this new addition to the torture sub-genre currently in vogue attacks various taboos of culture and basic humanity. Unfortunately the writing is too sparse, the plot undeveloped, suggesting too little too late. Appealing to the senses more than to logic, this exercise in brutality and alienation, torture and debasement, inspires dread precisely because the viewer is left wondering at the source of the maniac's motivations. Regrettably, this same enigmatic quality, inspiring dread on one hand, overshadows the general effect of the experience. Quite simply, this otherwise wonderful film is incomplete as a story. Granted, many horror films get away with unresolved actions/motivations, from the clich´┐Ż 'surprise' ending of the generic Slasher picture to the ambiguity of many Asian ghost stories. Occasionally this inspires further tension, draping already macabre situations in further mystery. Yet there is usually a feeling in these rare circumstances that the ambiguity was consciously crafted, intended to achieve a pre-planned effect. There is no such feeling in Sheitan, where the motivations of the family, and the relationship between the patriarch and the Sheitan of myth, and the whole question of the doll, are given only the smallest explanation. All this said, and despite its lack of logic and scattered storytelling conventions, Sheitan is successful as a roller-coaster ride of violence and decrepit mood. It deserves to be seen for its energy and style, not its story.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review