Vinyan: Apocalypse Don't Look Now

Okay, horror buffs, here’s a tip for a movie that comes out on DVD tomorrow. If you’re into weird existential horror movies, rent Vinyan without so much as reading a synopsis (the synopsis spoils what I think is a really cool reveal). And certainly don’t watch the trailer, which – as trailers are wont to do – spoils pretty much everything and misrepresents the movie.

For a teaser:

I like horror movies that ultimately tap into larger issues, that you might say are metaphors for something else. For instance, Ginger Snaps is about puberty, 28 Days Later is about fear of abandonment, Rosemary’s Baby is about pre-natal anxiety, and The Exorcist is about religious doubt. It’s helps that they’re also good horror movies.

You could say Vinyan, a good horror movie, is about the inability of folks like us – privileged, middle class First Worlders – to comprehend the enormity of terrible things happening in the world. But mostly, it’s a good horror movie.

Spoiler-laden post to follow this one. I’d recommend not proceeding until you’ve seen the movie.



I was a bit worried going in, because director Fabrice Du Welz’ last film, Calvaire (The Ordeal), was just so weird. Really weird. Weirdy weird. It was a French Deliverance by way of David Lynch. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to most folks. So going into a screening of this, I had no idea what to expect. And that really helps when you watch Vinyan.

It’s great that you only gradually realize the couple has lost their child in the tsunami during a vacation. The early sense of “what’s going on here?” is a key part of the unfolding dread. Was their son kidnapped? Misplaced? Simply drowned? That he was swept away in the 2004 tsunami – it might as well be capitalized, but note how almost no one ever calls it that in the movie – almost trivializes their situation. A quarter of a million people died in the Indian Ocean on that day. That this boy was one of them was simply a matter of a vacationing family in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s almost something Lovecraftian about how they’re faced with their own statistical insignificance, something us privileged First Worlders rarely have to deal with. We’re Important. We Matter. We are Sexy and Happy and Comfortable and Healthy. Our children are Special.

This is a subtle part of the movie, however, and the director lets it bubble up rather than hits us over the head with it. Note how the people on the beach have their own ceremony to deal with the deaths, which is where meaning of the title – a restless ghost that can’t find its way to the underworld and can’t leave life – is explained. Meanwhile, the Behlmers are stuck, unable to go back to their own lives, and unable to go forward in any meaningful way. They are the real vinyans, of course. Their voyage into the jungle mirrors Jeanne essentially going mad and Paul helplessly dragged along behind her.

The progression from the city into the jungle into a bombed-out village and then into the even more dangerous jungle and then into a community of ghosts is reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. And the riverboat is so very Heart of Darkness. In a way, this is one of those movies about characters who have to leave the city and enter the “wilderness” to discover themselves (Withnail and I, for another example, and Last Life in the Universe, also set in Thailand and even more gorgeous, courtesy of the talents of cinematographer Christopher Doyle). Perhaps a better parallel is characters who leave the city and are destroyed in the wilderness. There are definite similarities to this and Long Weekend, the weird 1978 Australian horror movie about a couple in the wilderness dealing with their own lost child.

Note how we first meet Jeanne Behlmer coming out of the sea, clean and sexy, but somehow uneasy. And note how she gradually sinks into mud and dirt, embracing and being embraced by the earth instead of the water. There’s a progression from drowning to burial. The final shot of her being coated in mud by the tiny hands of lost children is just amazing. Thank god for the French for letting us have visuals like this that might be wrongly interpreted as risque (a French writer and English director gave us Nicole Kidman and Cameron Bright in a bathtub together in a similarly taboo image in Birth). Compare this also to the ending of Calvaire, in which a man driven mad is reclaimed by the earth.

The similarities to Don’t Look Now are also obvious, right down to the child wearing red, the weird unsexy sex scene, the preoccupation with the exotic location, and even the “cathedral” where everything comes to a bloody ending. But here is no dwarf serial killer. Here are the ghosts (?) of lost children. These ghosts confront them with the reality that what’s happened to them is nothing exceptional. The commonness of their experience, of the death of their child, eventually destroys and swallows them.

I really really liked this. It’s a bit of a grenade movie, where you see it – and get creeped out – and it takes a while before it goes off, at which point you can’t stop thinking about it. I might be pushing my own interpretation, but in addition to just being a solid “descent into madness” movie, it did strike me as a message about the inability of the privileged to understand enormity in the world. I love how it was anchored in the 2004 tsunami. It was very much about that event without simply being about that event. I wish someone would do this with Katrina, which instead is a glorified extra in that stupid Denzel Washington time travel movie and a senseless role in the B-plot of the Benjamin Button movie.

Vinyan is gorgeous, shot by Benoit Debie, who also shot Irreversible for Gasper Noe. There were a couple of crane shots that were just awesome. At one point, as Jeanne is plunging through the woods, the camera follows along, but from above, looking down through foliage at her while she runs, driving home the point that she’s being swallowed by the jungle. And then the crane shot that reveals and then goes into the ruined temple at the end was pretty mind-blowing. I wonder what sort of Fitzcarraldo-like mechanism had to be rigged in the jungle to set that up.


this one, right?

Emmanuel Beart and Rufus Sewell?


Yep, that’s it. Now you fuckers get out of this thread until you’ve seen it. Remember, don’t read the stupid-ass spoilery synopsis!


I’m only a few minutes in but great use of audio in the opening.

Do not liveblog this movie! It deserves your full attention! :)


You know, there’s something odd about this. Probably it’s just me. But when I see one of these threads that says ‘By god, read no further! You must not be spoiled by my words!’ Well then of course I jump straight down to the spoilers. Not sure if it’s my contrary nature, or the fact that I can’t stand not knowing something – either way, this weird reverse psychology thing gets me every time.

‘I looked into the trap, Ray.’

Well, you know, Pogue, there’s a way you can get around the “not knowing something” part: by watching the movie and coming to know the stuff you didn’t know the way the director intended it!


“You let him go.”

I noticed quickly the running motif of Paul getting separated from Jeanne, thrashing against various layers of metaphorical current (crowds, unfamiliar surroundings, emotional) to get back to her and each time that was only temporary. It coupled with his repeated pattern of angry defiance of things that folds quickly into ultimately impotent surrender; trapped ghost endlessly replaying what were likely the circumstances of the loss of their child. And of course those combine in the final separation of them, Jeanne in that slow wave of ghosts, and all his defiance simply giving up, standing still and letting the returning wave toward him bring him down and tear him apart.

Great bookending of the whole thing, too. Underwater and surfacing solemn, to being coated in mud and grime laughing, to open sky.

In a weird way, neither ending was all that horrible; you get the sense it was the only way both of those ghosts could move on from where they were stuck.

I think it’s the kind of film that’ll drive more literal interpreters a bit crazy (or at least irritated), but I really dug the whole slow-burn fever dream texture of it all.

Awesome catch on the wave imagery, Drastic! Very nice.


I just watched this and found it to be not my cup of tea. I am a fairly literal interpreter, so what I saw was a fairly typical “White folk over their heads in foreign lands” movie mixed with “Maternal instinct, even when crazy, trumps male rationality” with some french aesthetics for flavor.

Interestingly, what saves me from dismissing this movie due to every character in it making stupid choices is that I think it’s not real. While I wasn’t hip deep in metaphor like others, there was one scene that nailed down the dream like behavior, which was when she runs from him, and starts going upriver. He ends up at the river, doesn’t know where she went, and from previous scenes the likelihood of her coming back because he’s calling for her is pretty slim at that point. Yet we jump immediately to the two of them back together, in a completely different area of the forest. That’s a dream.

Also, I didn’t find the end scene very moving. I thought the concept of it was good, but it should’ve been shortened. Why? Because it went so long, I noticed that very few hands were smearing her back, and none on her arms, since every kid was going right for the boobies. While that could’ve been a powerful “Lost Boys” maternal moment, one look at the kids’ faces surrounding her showed not solemnity or reverence, but adolescent smirks and giggles. It ended up for me being a scene of the native kids’ opportunity to feel up the white woman (and who can blame them, it’s Emmanuelle Beart, amiright?)

I did like how every time they talked about the villages they were going to was where “white children” were sighted, which could have been foreshadowing to the terrorizing monsters that the tribe of kids were, starving old people, burying others alive, but the protagonists took that to be their slave trade kids.

In the future, while Tom and I have some similar tastes in movies, I’m going to spoil myself when he recommends a horror film to see whether it’s a Below, or another Vinyan.


I Hated this movie. What is the whole point of it? This whole odyssey because she sees the back of a boy wearing a red shirt? When does she become the leader of those kids? Considering she doesn’t even speak Thai, how does she give orders to them? Why does she want her husband dead? When did he “let him go”? And why should we care about these people at all? These characters are not likable for a single minute.

The final shot of her being coated in mud by the tiny hands of lost children is just amazing.

Seriously? Ugly, gone-crazy mom that gets her tits rubbed by dozens of crazy, murdering, children? That’s not amazing. It’s dreck. Perverted dreck.

Do we need an awful movie like this to point out that losing a child is maddening? I hope not. And what exactly makes this a “horror” film? The awful evisceration scene at the end doesn’t turn this whole dreckfest into a horror movie. Do I understand you right that you think the children are ghosts, aka. dead? I didn’t think so. They were just Lords of the Flies.

Thailand looks like a pretty weird place. No wonder my father has moved there a few years ago…

Also, Emmanuel Beart has a beak like a duck.

I didn’t like this movie. Or I should say I liked it better when it was called Cannibal Holocaust, and didn’t take itself so seriously.

Neither lead character is compelling. They aren’t bad characters in a way that the characters in Cloverfield were, but close. The mom was too nutty from the beginning, which is okay if it was balanced by the husband. But he’s too spineless and dumb to relate to.

When he’s complaining about the money they are charging him, what’s that about? Either it’s literal, and he’s stupidly arguing for no reason(since he has no leverage) OR it’s symbolic. But symbolic of what? Symbolic of the audience getting gouged by having to pay to see this crap- that’s what!

Wow. Those last two comments were weird. “Ugly, gone-crazy mom…”? Ugly? What movie were you watching, dude?

As for the “perverted dreck” comment, I suppose I have to allow for that. At least for the first word of it. I don’t think “dreck” applies (though it does make me get a little twinge about WotD) by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand the “perverted” comment. It is a jaw dropping moment, made all the more difficult because of how long it lingers. I think I found myself holding my breath. At the power of the image. At the very fact that it was in the film. At the fact of real children in such a sexual situation, regardless of its maternal intentions. I’m of two minds about this moment. I’m thankful that it is there, because it is so powerful and appropriate thematically. At the same time it punched me right out of the film. I immediately started thinking of these children, these real children as actors, and exploitation. And that took me right out of it at the very end. But maybe it was supposed to.

Tom’s connection to the bath scene in Birth is apt, but while that moment was “similarly taboo” I did not get the sense that the actual actor was being exploited. Perhaps time’s passing and the number of viewings I’ve given that movie have lessened the impact (or possible offensiveness) of that moment in my memory. I’m not sure. It does seem that this corresponding moment in Vinyan is in a different ballpark. We can joke about the boys in the scene, “I’m sure none of them were complaining, hurrr-hurrr-hurrr!” But how are we if it’s little girls touching the father in an analogous way? I don’t know if you can make such an analogy though, because maternal passion (is that the word I want to use?) is so specific, but have I no doubt about the double-standard.

This is one of those weird moments that I can see being really effective in a book, but that may be too much in a film. Some images just do not translate (an example from a crappy film would be from Signs, there’s no way swinging a bat at glasses of water is going to translate as anything but goofy, no matter what music you try to put under it). Part of this is cultural (Tom’s word ‘taboo’ above). And I wonder if this film could even get a release in the states because of this.

That final moment notwithstanding, I think Vinyan is a breathtaking film (and not just because that moment made me hold my breath). It’s almost overwhelming. Exhausting. Haunting and beautiful.

I can’t wait to find out about that crane shot Tom references above, as well. The cathedral shot.

Great recommendation, Tom. Also, +2 for using ‘enormity’ correctly two times.


“He said, ‘What’s the difference?’”

“Dreck” is a German word; it means dirt. Are you saying this movie wasn’t dirty?

“Ugly mom” because the actresses face is horrible. Apart from her blank eyes, she has a mouth like Howard the duck. I was distracted whenever her mouth was on screen.

No. I’m saying it’s not worthless trash.

[stealth edit reply] I wish you hadn’t said that about Howard the Duck. Thanks for ruining Emmanuelle Beart for me, Format.[/stealth edit reply]


What is meant by ‘horror’ here? Is it a gory movie?

For about ten seconds, yes.

The Horror

Go to the end for your answer.