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Le Manoir
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by Jay Seaver

"Murdering French millennials with a smile."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: How did we, as Americans, let France and/or Belgium go full raunchy comedy with their "Scream" knock-offs before we did? Hollywood probably hasn't completely overlooked this opportunity, but I'm having trouble thinking of something like "Le Manoir" ("The Mansion") that works as well as it does. It's a bonkers slasher movie with even more comedy than those going for arch irony tend to have, but it doesn't quite play as a spoof. The blend of broad laughs and plentiful blood may not play for everyone, but the often-mean French sense of humor goes fairly well with a killing spree.

It's the end of the year, and the highly-organized Nadine (Nathalie Odzierejko) has rented a mansion in Belgium for a big "Party Like It's 1999" shindig with boyfriend Fabrice (Marc Jarousseau) and their friends - would-be Hollywood star Djamal (Yvick Letexier), uptight ginger Bruno (Ludovik Day), weed & mushroom enthusiast Drazik (Vincent Tirel), recent police academy grad Jess (Delphine Baril), party girl Sam (Vanessa Guide), her ex-boyfriend Stephane (Jerome Niel), and Sam's teenage cousin Charlotte (Lila Lacombe). Should be fun, even if Stephane hasn't gotten the message that he and Sam aren't just "on a break" and doesn't want to dress the part. And they've been told not to go up to the second floor, or in the basement, or into the nearby woods. And there's no cell phone service. And, okay, they couldn't see the maid who was killed in the pre-credits sequence…

It takes a while to get to the first murder/maiming after that; director Tony T. Datis and the four writers are having enough fun with these ten characters - Enzo (Baptiste Lorber), the guy Sam cheated on Stephane with, crashes the party - that they're reluctant to not just start culling the cast of characters, but to take the one that has gone missing completely seriously. It's understandable because having that many characters to potentially knock off means either spending a fair amount of time building them up or not having their death and/or disfigurement mean something, giving the opening a bit of a learning curve until it transitions into things really starting to get nuts.

That middle chunk is not the wheel-spinning, one-step-forward-two-steps-back that many horror comedies can become, though, in part because it seems like half the characters are just drunk or high enough to get distracted from the immediate mortal peril, thanks to the party at the start, and it works better than it's got any right to. In large part that comes from the guy supplying the drugs, Vincent Tirel's Drazik, played dry and detached and basically a bottomless supply of running jokes, weird reactions, and deadpan comedy, but the whole ensemble is actually very strong. Yvick Letexier may be playing Djamal extremely broad as a goofball who doesn't have nearly the talent he needs for his movie-star aspirations, but he sells jokes about that and the difficulties of having an enormous member with dumb-guy sweetness rather than being brashly obnoxious. There's an odd but entertaining chemistry to how Delphine Baril's forceful Jess seems to kind of dig Ludovik Day's mama's-boy Bruno, and while the contrast between Vanessa Guide as the self-centered Sam and Lila Lacombe as her quiet cousin doesn't get as much play as it could here, Lacombe at least has a great reaction to one of the film's nuttiest scenes.

There's still a bounciness by the time the movie makes it to the sort of horror-movie last act where some of what's going on is revealed and the deaths speed up and are more likely to happen with on-screen cruelty - as if the buzz from Drazik's case of goodies has lingered - and that's not a bad thing. There's a lot about the finale that is legitimately twisted as the suspense ratchets up, but the film's sense of humor staying the same rather than shifting to just over-the-top gore is quite satisfying. It doesn't entirely make sense, although there is a nice sort of messed-up logic to it that's just the right sort of bow to tie on a movie that has generally not hammered on a theme or encouraged the audience to really worry about what exactly is killing millennials until that point.

The slasher comedy that's not a spoof takes just the right sort of ironic detachment, and "Le Manoir" may not always hit that square, but it's awful close and has enough funny performances to make it work. It's good bloody fun.

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originally posted: 08/10/17 03:11:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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