Review: 5150 Elm's Way (18) / Director: Eric Tessier / Screenplay: Patrick Senecal / Starring: Marc-Andre Grondin, Normand D'Armour, Sonia Vachon, Mylene St-Sauveur / Release date: Out now
Sometimes you’ll watch a film that so subverts your expectations that it can generate immense goodwill regardless of any flaws it may have.
One such movie is the French Canadian thriller 5150, Elm’s Way, a quietly efficient tale of religious psychopaths, suburban imprisonment and chess. Directed by Éric Tessier, it is a film that takes an unconventional approach to the killer and captive story, managing to navigate its way successfully through a plot that, in less assured hands, would collapse under the weight of its own implausibility.
It begins when we meet Yannick (Marc-André Grondin), a young man recently enrolled in film school, who has just moved into his own place and seems to be on the verge of a new life of exciting possibilities. Cycling along an ordinary suburban street, he has an accident after a cat dashes across his path and so, hurt and unable to ride his damaged bike, he calls at a nearby house for assistance. However, through a series of contrivances he ends up entering the house uninvited and, after hearing someone shouting for help, is imprisoned when the owner of the house drags the pleading incumbent out and locks Yannick in.
It is at this point that seasoned horror fans could be forgiven for thinking that they’re going to be subjected to prolonged depictions of torture, brutality and gore, all leading to a protracted chase sequence and a bloody showdown between killer and captive. However, this is not the case because the man who has imprisoned Yannick does not live alone, but rather shares the house with his wife and two daughters. And far from it being a charnel house of pain and degradation, it all looks rather normal, the only unusual aspect being that Dad considers himself one of the ‘righteous’ with a mission in life to punish the ‘unrighteous’. Granted, we soon learn that he is a religious maniac but as psychopaths on a mission from God go, he’s rather a sympathetic one. So when his wife persuades him that Yannick may be one of the righteous he resists the urge to murder him and instead has to work out what he’s going to do with him.
Jacques Beaulieu as Normand D'Amour is the film’s main strength, the father of the house and the film’s chief antagonist, eschewing as he does any temptation to rant or gurn his way through scenes in order to convince us of his religious mania. Instead he seems (for the most part) like the sort of guy you’d be quite happy to have as a next door neighbour, his attempts to use only reasonable force against his prisoner at odds with the cold flash of steel we glimpse in his eyes when he expresses a need to get back to work on his ‘project’.
Jacques’s relationship with the rest of the family, all of whom are aware of Yannick’s imprisonment, is one of the most interesting elements of the movie and it is a credit to the actors concerned that they are all such convincing characters, managing to sustain our interest and belief in a situation that could so easily have been one dimensional. There is the hot headed daughter Michelle (Mylène St-Sauveur), desperate for her father’s approval but constantly incurring his wrath for her use of unnecessary violence; his timid but basically decent w
For most of its running time the film switches between Yannick’s attempts to escape and Jacques’s efforts to keep his domestic situation under control while carrying on with the work of punishing those he deems deserving. He does this while seeking to initiate his eldest daughter into the business of killing with a view to continuing his mission when his ‘project’ is complete.
The main psychological strength of the film is in the burgeoning relationship between Yannick and Jacques as the latter’s complete conviction in the rightness of his actions is challenged by the former. Yannick’s need to prove to Jacques that he is insane and that what he is doing is not the work of God gradually comes to eclipse his desire to escape. So when Jacques proposes that if Yannick can beat him in just one game of chess he will accept he is wrong and release him, Yannick’s desire to do so becomes all encompassing.
Throughout, Yannick is attempting to resist his own descent into insanity, made manifest through hallucinatory sequences brought about by his feelings of claustrophobia and his obsession with proving Jacques wrong. But, in keeping with its habit of gently subverting your expectations, the film resists the temptation to pursue a resolution that seems inevitable at this point and, by doing so, retains both the credibility of its story and the integrity of its characters.
This is a film that won’t be for everyone with a taste for horror/thrillers, as its pacing is occasionally uneven and there may be those who find the running time of 110 minutes a tad indulgent. In truth, the film does sag somewhat around the half way mark before picking up again once the chess challenge has been made. Also, the plot developments as it nears its finale will perhaps be a step too far for anyone unable to ignore the practical difficulties of one revelation in particular. But for me the dénouement was a gloriously ghoulish finale that, though pushing the bounds of credibility, exhibited a Grand Guignol sensibility that meant I couldn’t help but admire the audacity of it all.
5150, Elm’s Way surprised me a lot, there being very little in it that I thought was predictable or formulaic. This being a film that was made in 2009 it seems a shame that it seems to have garnered such scant attention (at least in the UK) since its initial release. I’d therefore advise anyone with an interest in seeing a thriller that offers something a little bit different to rectify that oversight, now that it has found a release on DVD.