(a.k.a. SHEITAN)

Three youths - Ladj (Ladj Ly), Thai (Nico Le Phat Tan) and Bart (Olivier Bartelemy) - celebrate Christmas Eve in a nightclub drinking themselves stupid, dancing to hideous rave music and cracking on hapless to the local ladies.

When short-fused Bart gets into a fight with a barman and ends being bottled in the face, his friends meet him outside the club and consider their options for the remainder of the evening. Their group has grown - Ladj has picked up Algerian beauty Jasmine (Leila Bekhti), while Thai has befriended stunning country girl Eve (Roxane Mesquida).

The group embark on a breakneck car journey to Eve's remote country house, to continue their partying there at her suggestion. They arrive in daylight the following morning and are greeted by the maniacally grinning housekeeper Joseph (Vincent Cassel, IRREVERSIBLE; BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF).

Joseph takes an instant shine to the naturally aggressive Bart, much to the amusement of the others. But undeterred by their strange host and his apparent sexual fondness of one of them, the group decide to stay in Eve's huge abode in the hope of getting laid.

For a short while things seem like fun, if a little odd. While Ladj and Thai flirt madly with their respective dates, Bart grows more and more concerned with the attention Joseph seems to paying him.

It's almost too much when the boys learn of a natural spring with warm water nearby, and Joseph offers to take Bart skinny-dipping there. But, as the others are all eager to go, Bart reluctantly agrees to tag along. But after a piggy-back fight at the spring turns sour, the group retire back to Eve's home for their evening meal - where Joseph chills them the tale of a man who made a pact to the devil in return for a baby child.

And as Joseph's behaviour becomes more feral as the meal progresses, the group finally begin to realise the growing cloud of dementia that they have stumbled into ...

SATAN starts noisily in the nightclub and continues to assault the earlobes throughout. There's lots of shouting, screaming, laughing, blaring music, screeching car tyres, dogs barking ... first-time feature director Kim Chapiron clearly likes to make a din.

The three lads, central to the plot as the innocents thrown into an alien world of frightening absurdities, are therefore shouty throughout and as result difficult to like. When Joseph becomes intimidating I didn't feel like I was fearful of their fates - rather I wanted him to kill the bastards and put an end to their tiresome practical jokes!

Unlikeable characters and excessive noisiness aside, SATAN scores highly on points of art design and visual style. Eve's house is a masterful throwback to simple atmospherics a'la the original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Her father was a doll maker and her house is literally littered with creepy doll parts in every room. As for the photography, it really is stunning at times. It helps of course that there is some beautiful French countryside at hand, and the wonderful main location of Eve's home - naturally photogenic in its state of rural decay. The film looks great.

Performances are competent throughout (especially considering the lack of experience from the male leads - they, along with Chapiron, had previously only made shorts and music videos with their cult production company Kourtrajme). In fact, there's only Cassel that hams it up. But his overacting only adds to the curious attraction of his character. The performance could have been less broad perhaps, as Cassel makes it comical when I would have preferred it to come across as more sinister.

It must also be said that, while never slow, SATAN seems to take a long time in going absolutely nowhere. When things finally escalate and the truth about Eve's housekeeper is revealed, it seems like little more than afterthought anyway. For a horror film, the horror is only hinted at for the majority of the film and arrives to late towards to the end.

For all the crude sexual conversations in the film, it's surprisingly tame too in terms of nudity and violence.

As an interesting aside, it's worth noting that the central characters are three French lads of differing Ethnic origins. This echoes the characters in Cassel's own breakthrough film LA HAINE, and SATAN marks his debut as an executive producer. Whether this was an intentional homage, or a way to get Joseph's racist dialogue into the script, is anyone's guess.

The disc from Tartan offers the film uncut in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. It looks very nice, with bright sharp images and solid colour saturation.

The French audio options - in stereo, 5.1 and 5.1 DTS mixes - are as excellent as you'd expect from a Tartan release. Removable English subtitles are easy to read and free from errors.

The film can be accessed via 16 chapters.

Extras include a decent, quick-edited 26-minute making-of documentary. In it, Cassel talks hurriedly about the genesis of the production, from when he worked with the Kourtrajme boys to meeting Chapiron, casting the movie, worrying that his own performance would spell the end of his acting career, and so on. With plenty of behind-the-scenes footage to savour, this is better than most featurettes twice it's length, thanks to it's unrelenting pace.

There's also a 3-minute short movie, entitled VAMPIRES which stars Monica Bellucci (Cassel's offscreen wife, who also has a small but key role in SATAN). It's shot like an old black-and-white silent film and is, frankly, baffling.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer for SATAN which is a speedy 2-minute noisefest that makes the film look more horrific than it actually is.

Fans of the movie may be interested in HMV's exclusive 2-disc collector's edition of the film. The additional disc contains 9 behind-the-scenes featurettes - 62 minutes in total running time - plus a music video from Z Team, which may just be the most violent music promo ever filmed.

SATAN isn't bad by any means (thank God I didn't have to use my terrible SHITEAN pun), but will probably be best remembered for it's outlandishly racist dialogue and a couple of contentional scenes involving animals.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Tartan UK
Region All - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review