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Treatment, The (2015)
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by Jay Seaver

"Arguably darker than serial killer thrillers, but still engrossing."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: Film festivals, or the other ways that film lovers cram more movies than their friends watch in a month into a much shorter span of time, can really warp one's perception of a given picture via context. On its own, I might consider "The Treatment" to be a dark, pessimistic movie about especially horrible crimes; after three screenings that plunged me into that sort of dark water without any sort of lifeline, this movie's police procedural approach made it seem much more an exciting thriller.

It follows Nick Cafmeyer (Geert van Rampelberg), a detective for the Belgian federal police who has just been called in to take the lead on an ugly case - a couple found chained up in their home, their captor fleeing with their nine-year-old son upon being discovered. The whole department scrambles, but it's more personal for Nick than most: When he was nine, his brother Bjorn was abducted and never found. Neighbor Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche) was the prime suspect, but nothing could be proven, and he has spent the last twenty-five years slipping Nick taunting notes containing conflicting accounts of what happened to Bjorn, stepping it up in recent months. Plettinckx almost certainly has nothing to do with this new case, although what looks like his most honest note yet may be the only thing that can break Nick's focus on what some of the kids he talks to call "the troll".

The Treatment is a detective story if not necessarily a mystery; it points its fingers in roughly the right direction early on on and then spends most of the next couple of hours having the police piece together the path necessary to get there. In fact, it lets the audience get far enough ahead of Nick and his colleagues that it can get a bit frustrating toward the end; viewers may find themselves frantically rewinding the picture in their heads, trying to remember if Nick has all the crucial bits of information they have our not. That's not necessarily ideal - not every detective story needs to be a fair-play whodunit, but it helps to know what everyone knows - but director Hans Herbots and screenwriter Carl Joos (adapting a novel by Mo Hayder) mostly have a good juggling act going, keeping plenty of balls in the air even as new ones are thrown in.

Be warned, they are some fairly lurid balls being juggled - Nick's parallel official and personal cases imply multiple pedophiles, some of whom have nicknames that imply particularly nasty modes of operation, with what initially seems like just some odd details leading to a particularly nasty twist. It's not the only one, and there are red herrings to boot, and while none of them are particularly pleasant (even a moment meant to indicate healing implies something horrible), one does have to admire the way that the filmmakers use them to press forward. Maybe it would be more honest to wallow and make sure that the idea that the movie has just presented its audience with is met with the proper revulsion, but Herbots oops too go the path of the thriller, letting each new clue sink in just enough that it spurs things on, making people want things done faster.

The way this mystery is built doesn't put Geert van Rampelberg in every scene, but he is in plenty, and he is usually a highlight. Even though the movie throws the audience into the middle of things fairly quickly and as a result has Nick on high "this case is personal" alert right off, there are hints that he is not always so tightly wound. That's hardly the case during the film, as Nick is yelling at victims pretty quickly, but van Rampelberg does well to show that Nick is mostly driven by his better nature, and does well even in scenes where the man being faced with a direct choice to pursue one trail or the other could make him look week; instead, the indecision has him believably wrestling with his conscience.

He plays a lot of scenes against Ina Geerts as the squad's captain, and there's a nice chemistry there - these two have some sort of history. Johan van Assche makes Ivan interesting by seldom being overtly creepy, mostly just coming off as the neighbor everyone hates (but who may see himself as responding to unfair persecution) until one or two scenes show him as having a bit of a screw loose. Ingrid De Vos, on the other hand, makes the woman Nick eventually tracks down thoroughly and compellingly loathsome. The weakest link, unfortunately, is Dominique Van Malder, who seldom gets to make his character's madness as compelling as the rest.

It's still unsettling in its way, and the filmmakers have put together a good, taut thriller that sucks the viewer in, even if the actual crimes are perhaps more unsettling than the standard serial-killer model. Sure, I may just have needed to see cops working to bring some order in response to cruel acts at the end of this particular day, but given that this is much a part of the genre's appeal as the journey into the dark place, I can at least say I enjoyed "The Treatment", even if that's an unlikely word to use given the subject matter.

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originally posted: 09/29/14 02:07:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2015 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 07-Jul-2015

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