By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
This Belgian filmmaker’s extraordinary mastery over space and his ability to manipulate our experience of it draws me into his frequently dark, sometimes tragic and commonly perverse movies.”
There are few filmmakers whose movies so effectively create a sense of claustrophobia, of suffocation, of being closed in or shut down despite being frequently set in vast open spaces than Fabrice Du Welz. While far too complex a director to reduce solely to such a simple equation, it is – time and time and time again – the Belgian filmmaker’s extraordinary mastery over space and his ability to manipulate our experience of it that draws me into his frequently dark, sometimes tragic, and commonly perverse movies.
Inexorable once again finds Du Welz working with Belgian screen icon Benoît Poelvoorde and his exquisitely elastic face, following up on their collaboration in 2019’s Adoration. Like this film, Adoration too reveals a fascination in the complex lives of children and how the pervasive rosy glow of representation they far too often have forced upon them by adults is nothing more than a hammy cliche ripe for subversion. Yet like so many of his films, in both Inexorable and Adoration Du Welz again goes back to that strangely unsettling tension between the outdoors and/or often overwhelmingly enormous expanses, and that indefinable feeling that the vaster the space, the more intensely it feels like the walls are closing in. From the woods in Calvaire (2004) and Adoration to locations including the Mergui Archipelago in Vinyan (2008) to the blood-drenched road trip of 2014’s Alléluia – the latter Du Welz’s reimagining of the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, previously immortalized in Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1970) – it often feels the greater the space in which his stories play out, the higher the stakes.
In Inexorable, that almost unfathomably large space this time is not outdoors, although the enormous mansion where its action takes place is certainly marked by its isolation, surrounded by thick, dense forest. The film follows Poelvoorde’s character Marcel, a once-successful author with writer’s block married to successful and wealthy publisher Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey). Publishing runs in Jeanne’s blood, and she has inherited the manor from her fellow publisher father; so great is his late father-in-law’s legacy that Marcel even moves into his office in the hope that some of its previous occupant’s success will rub off on him, and inspire a novel as great as his best-selling book, Inexorable. With their daughter Lucie, so ready are the family to settle into their new life that they even buy her a pet dog. Lucie struggles with training her new pet, so the arrival of the mysterious newcomer to the village nearby Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) to their home after she has found the wandering pup couldn’t have come at a better time. Instantly latching onto Gloria, Lucie decides that she is her new sister and, after helping Lucie train the dog, Gloria connives to become her permanent nanny.
So less than obvious reference points like US erotic thrillers, then, Inexorable feels like it is closely watched over by the ghost of Henri-Georges Clouzot, and even, at times, someone like Claude Chabrol.”
Gloria is nervous, twitchy, and riddled with self-doubt, but she also clearly had her sights on infiltrating the family from the very beginning, her eyes set on Marcel especially. As the suspense, sex and violence escalates and Marcel’s carefully constructed world is in dire risk of collapsing around him, it’s hard to watch Inexorable and feel the shadow of the 80s and 90s US erotic thriller cast over it. But there is much, much more going on here, and the film packs its punch much more through what is not addressed than what is; yes, we learn Gloria’s motivation, but the film is consciously averse to spoon-feeding any resolution about that (here, like in much horror, the repressed returns, but only a little bit). Even more intriguing are its deliberate and overt references to the legacy of the Rexist Party and the history of fascism in Belgium, which again, very much lies hidden in plain sight, but lingers like an unpleasant odour whose presence we can neither deny nor tangibly get a handle on. These tantalizing elements are something far more sophisticated and consciously executed to allow us to comfortably dismiss them as plot holes; rather, it is their very slipperiness that makes them such an uncomfortable fit.
So less than obvious reference points like US erotic thrillers, then, Inexorable feels like it is closely watched over by the ghost of Henri-Georges Clouzot, and even, at times, someone like Claude Chabrol. Like these filmmakers, the sinister, suspenseful, and sexual sit in frequently uncomfortable but intoxicating harmony, and – like Du Welz – can never seem to fully extract themselves from the political context of their production, even if not considered capital-P “Political Films” as such. It is, indeed, the legacy of Clouzot and Chabrol that Inexorable sees Du Welz following in, less as an imitator, but as a bold, unrelenting and seemingly unstoppable spiritual grandchild.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a film critic from Melbourne, Australia, who has published widely on cult, horror and exploitation film including The Giallo Canvas: Art, Excess and Horror Cinema (McFarland, 2021), Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (McFarland, 2011) and the 2021 updated second edition of the same name, Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality (McFarland, 2015), the single-film focused monographs Suspiria (Auteur, 2016), Ms. 45 (Columbia University Press, 2017) and The Hitcher (Arrow Books, 2018), and two Bram Stoker Award nominated books, Masks in Horror Cinema: Eyes Without Faces (University of Wales Press, 2019) and 1000 Women in Horror (BearManor Media, 2020). She is also the co-editor, with Dean Brandum, of ReFocus: the Films of Elaine May (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), Wonderland (Thames & Hudson, 2018) on Alice in Wonderland in film, co-edited with Emma McRae, and Strickland: The Analogues of Peter Strickland (2020) and Cattet & Forzani: The Strange Films of Cattet & Forzani (2018), both co-edited with John Edmond and published by the Queensland Film Festival. Alexandra is on the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, and a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.