Sur le Seuil

“What I feel is… Evil”

A mother drowns her children. A desperate teenager guns down his schoolmates. Fanatics crash planes into towers filled with people. You hear about these tragedies on the news, you listen to so-called experts trying to explain why events like these happen… But what if there was no reasonable answer? What if these were manifestations of pure Evil?

There are countless books and films that reflect the worst humankind has to offer, that magnify these things into something even more grotesque, that bring supernatural forces into the mix. Evil takes a tangible form, it grows, it spreads… But that’s just make-believe, right? Then again, more so-called experts will say that violence in fiction influences the people exposed to it in reality. This “ridiculous notion”, as John Carpenter calls it, was taken to its extreme in one of his most chilling pictures, 1995’s “In the Mouth of Madness”, in which a best-selling writer finds that the horrors he envisions and puts on paper eventually come to be. Furthermore, the mere action of reading his work makes one lose his mind.

“Sur le Seuil”, based on Patrick Senécal’s 1998 novel, swims in the same dark waters as Carpenter’s film. Thomas Roy (Patrick Huard) is a wildly successful horror writer who shocks his fans even more when he’s admitted in a psychiatric hospital after chopping his own fingers and trying to jump out of a window. Doctor Paul Lacasse (Michel Côté) is assigned to his case and, with the help of his pregnant colleague (Catherine Florent) and a tabloid reporter (Jean L’Italien), he discovers that there are troubling ties between Roy’s writings, the most horrifying local events of the past 20 years and the priests of the apparently quiet little village of Mont-Mathieu…

To say more would be inexcusable, but I’ll mention that the last act of the film is amongst the goriest, most disturbing imagery I’ve seen, at least in a French Canadian film. The acting is uneven and the screenplay is heavy-handed, with characters spelling out their arcs and explaining away backstory and subtext in detail, but first-time director Éric Tessier (who co-wrote the script with Senécal) keeps the film engrossing. Using high-contrast cinematography and harsh soundscapes, he creates and maintains an atmosphere of uneasiness and nameless dread. The film occasionally veers between the terrifying and the ridiculous, but ultimately whatever grin you might have had on your face is wiped off and you sit there in shock. The third act kills, literally.

“I’ve seen it… I’ve seen it.”