Apart from its annual Fantastic Film Festival, the cult 1971 classic Daughters of Darkness and 2004’s depraved The Ordeal, Belgium isn’t exactly famous for its horror output. So it was with great interest that I sought out director Pieter Van Hees’s Left Bank (aka Linkeroever) – a bizarre blend of urban drama, erotic thriller and occult mystery set in Antwerp.
The story centres on Marie (Eline Kuppens), a young athlete who moves into an apartment complex with her new lover, Bob (Mattheas Schoenarts), in order to recuperate from a sporting injury.
As she settles into the foreboding tower block populated by shadowy neighbours, Marie soon discovers the previous tenant, a woman called Hella, mysteriously disappeared. With time on her hands, and with the help of Hella’s boyfriend Dirk, Marie starts investigating. But she soon opens up a serious can of worms.
The Brutalist building is built on a former dumping ground for the city’s poor and, according to legend, is a gateway to another dimension. It also transpires that Bob is dean of a guild of archers whose feast day is the 1st of November. In folklore, this was the pagan harvest festival of Samhain, a time when the guild made human sacrifices every seven years to ensure fertility. As the dreaded day draws nearer, it soon dawns on Marie that she is the next intended sacrifice.
This modern horror tries to recreate the chills that were so brilliantly achieved by Roman Polanski in both Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, and by Robin Hardy in The Wicker Man; as well as the weirdness that made Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom a masterpiece of the genre.
Technically the film is well crafted, with creative camerawork, moody photography (that perfectly captures the urban decay of this part of northern Europe) and sombre scoring. There are moments of pure scariness, like the strange physical manifestations that Marie suffers in the course of her journey – including icky secretions and thick hairs growing out of non-healing wounds. And the performances are effective: Kuppens (who reminded me of Björk) makes for a believable heroine, while Schoenarts as Bob is just right as the macho bad boy.
Anyone familiar with ending of The Wicker Man or the finale of the second series of True Blood, however, won’t be surprised by where this story is headed. And when you see the final shot, you will find yourself going “What?” In the end, you are left with more questions, than answers… What were the results of Marie’s blood test? Is Bob immortal? Is that a demon in the pit? Who was Hella?
While it’s no masterpiece, and the film begs a better ending, Left Bank is a skilful exercise in atmospherics.
Released 10 May