Clash of the Tartans

Sheitan cover

STUDIO: Tartan
MSRP: $22.95
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
Behind-the-scenes featurette

The Pitch

with a bit less lesbian lust meets The Wicker Man with a
more in-bred cult."

The Humans

Cassel, Roxane Mesquida, Nicolas Le Phat Tan, Olivier Bartélémy, and, for the
briefest of moments, a sexy vampire Monica Belucci

The Nutshell

young twenty-somethings meet a girl (Mesquida) at a club on Christmas Eve and
take her up on an invitation to her family’s country estate for the holiday. There
they meet Joseph (
Cassel) the slightly-mad housekeeper, and a village of weirdoes just this
side of the pale. The twenty-somethings find themselves caught up in the
unfamiliar rituals of Christmas in the sticks, such as freshly-slaughtered goat
for dinner. But if they think the eating habits of their hosts are weird,
they’re in for a surprise when the conversation turns to religion…

I had a friend who once told me that porn directors liked casting French women
because they were the prettiest. I’ve never quite been sure what he was talking about.

The Lowdown

It’s hard
not to play "Who’s Gonna Die First?" when Sheitan starts up. The
quick introduction to the characters gives us the archetypes which usually have
lowest life expectancy: the outcast, the slut, the minority, the plucky canine
sidekick. That does the film a bit of a disservice, though, because it’s never
really a slasher film, and the body count is low enough to make for almost a
zero-scoring game. The set-up is perfect for a carefree slaughter in the pastures,
but Sheitan
has a different goal in mind.

It’s a
bit of an experimental one, though, to serve as warning. What
Cassel and his production friends the
Chapirons want to play with more than your gore-tolerance is your sense of
humor. Sheitan isn’t a comedy, though, make no mistake. What it aims
to do is explore the territory where an audience gives up its nervous laughter,
and find the range in the continuum where giggles turn to silence and then to
screams. For the most part, the script does a good job dancing back and forth
from humor-as-defense and low-level revulsion.

I thought this was normal behavior until I was fifteen.

Cassel gets a lot of credit for selling that successfully, in his grinning
portrayal of Joseph the groundsman. His behavior is erratic to the point of
self-parody, bouncing off the fourth wall with abandon, and at the same time
remaining firmly surrounded by the oddballs of the farming community
environment. He doesn’t let up for a second, going Puckish with mood swings and
pure selfishness. He’s got a beautiful bipolarity to him, by which I mean to
imply he’s got a magnetic attraction to the audience, and sometimes a magnetic
repulsion when he meets us head on.

The film
breaks neatly into a three act structure (a fact which is touched on in the behind-the-scenes
featurette), with the unfortunate result that nothing in the narrative is as
cohesive as
Cassel‘s performance. Though the story
tries to gradually turn your good humor to rubble and twist you in on yourself,
some of the changes in mood come too abruptly, particularly the central
Christmas dinner scene, in which Joseph has a rare honest moment.

Andy Serkis only wishes he had this body.

not to say that there aren’t little touches of the main theme everywhere, from
a game of chicken in the ol’ swimming hole that turns ugly (and scalpy), to a
trollop’s brief dalliance with dog cock. Little items like these sprinkled
around the script make for a sense of unease, but never combine to form a

So, you
get a slasher set-up with no real slashing, and a fun narrative trick with no real
trickiness. What’s left? A cocktease of a third act (which mirrors the sexual
subcurrent pretty well, actually.) Tension ratchets up and then unspools with
worthless resolutions. Picture this: a little topless threesome action going on
in one of the bedrooms, cut black man relaxing in a tub in a pitch black
bathroom, something wandering around the house and… It all gets blown to hell
when a girl discovers crickets under her sheets as she crawls into bed.
Granted, it’s a lot of crickets, but
the stop-start pacing makes for an ineffective conclusion.

"Let’s go now to the pee-cam… Oh, too bad. You can see from this
angle that Bart’s urine did not make it into the goal. Bad luck."

Sheitan is easy to recommend for people
who want an unchallenging, but entertaining, bit of something left of the norm.
It’s worth watching simply for
Cassel‘s performance, even if you’re not sure if you’re laughing
at him or if he’s laughing at you.

The Package

only the one featurette, but it’s a decent one: a behind-the-scenes and the
story of the project’s origin, narrated by
Cassel in an informal interview setting.
The guy had his fingers in just about every aspect of production, and is very
aware of its life and times. He’s a good enough biographer for the film, and has
a number of good personal anecdotes to relay.

Sweet dreams for your soul.

I also
have to mention the cover art that Tartan selected for this release. Shades of
Hannibal? S’all right.

5.6 out of 10