Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2010
The Crimson Rivers, a 2002 French movie with English subtitles is directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and stars Jean Reno and Vincent Cassal. It's a taut physiological thriller with a surprise ending that will have you gasping for breath at the movie's end.
The Crimson Rivers was billed as "Se7en" meets the "Silence of the Lambs," and in the first ten minutes of the movie you'll see graphically why.
Reno, who acts in this movie like a French Clint Eastward, plays Detective Superintendant Pierre Niemans, a sleuth of such note, his crime classes are legendary among the French police. He is sent to a tiny fictitious university town of Guernon in the French Alps to investigate the bizarre murder and mutilation of a senior student at the local university. The University, which has been there for hundreds of years, is so self sufficient, it has it's own source of electricity.
The victim, who was bound in a fetal position, according to the local coroner, had his eyes removed and his hands cut off five hours before he died, which meant he spent the last hours of his life of intense pain. The person who found the body on a ledge of a mountain was Fanny Ferriera (Nadia Fares), who is a glaciolist/mountain climber, and also a student at the university. Niemans enlists her help in finding clues that may lead to the killer.
Almost immediately, she inadvertently leads him to a second mutilated body inside a cave in a mountain glacier, which is kind of spooky, since she is now connected to two grisly murders and immediately becomes the prime suspect.
Meanwhile 60 miles away, in the town of Sarzac, Detective Inspector Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) a former car thief, who smokes pot in a squad car with his two subordinates, is sent to investigate the desecration of the grave of a ten year-old girl, who died 18 years earlier after being run over by a tractor trailer going 80 mile an hour. When her mutilated body was found by police, her mother was sitting on the side of the road holding the only recognizable part of her left, a small finger. Soon after, the school the girl attended was robbed and all records, and pictures of the girl were stolen.
Kerkerian finds the girl's mother, who is now a nun living in a convent. She has taken the "Vow of Shadows," which basically means, since her daughter's death, she's been locked in a room with no light. The Mother Superior at the convent tells Kerkerian, "You can talk to her, but you can't see her. We haven't seen her for 15 years."
The mother, sitting in the shadows, tells Kerkerian that her daughter was killed by "demons," and warns him, "Save your soul while you still can."
Kerkerian's investigation leads him to the town of Guernon, where his case now connects with Niemans'. After a brief scuffle between the two cops, because neither knew the other was the law, they reluctantly join forces. Niemans tell Kerkerian that he always works along and Kerkerian replies, "That makes two of us."
Two more grisly murders occur, and Niemans, obviously the more experienced sleuth, tells his new partner, "It's a treasure hunt. Each corpse leads to the next."
The subplot, which turns out to be the final clue to the murders, is that for the last 100 years, the university staff and student have been marrying, and sometimes inbreeding, which has totally screwed up the university's gene pool. People are not who they seems to be, and the town people's children, who are thought to have superior genes, because their parents weren't blood related, are taken from the parents and given to the staff of the college.
What follows next are crazy car and truck chases and Kerkerian being out-run by the suspected murderer, after a ten minutes romp through the town of Guernon. The movie ends with an over-the top avalanche and if I say any more I'll spoil the ending for you.
The reviews for this film were mostly positive. The only complains the critics had was that the plot was so intricate, the ending seems preposterous. But not to me. I loved it.
Filmtreat.com praised the interplay between the two cops. "Reno and Cassel are magnetic as usual in the central role. Their chalk-and-cheese chemistry never falls into the classic movie buddy cliches. And the film's overpowering gruesomeness is tempered by stylish intelligence and lots of mumbo jumbo that never quite makes sense. It's all so disturbing, witty and visually astonishing that we're just happy to be along for the ride. A superior, original thriller."
The View London reviewer felt the same. "It has to be said that Reno and Cassel make a superb team, even though the film contrives to keep them apart for almost an hour. Both are very big stars in France, and it's not hard to see why, as they are both excellent here."
This movie is not for the squeamish, but if you can take a little blood, guts and gore, you're in for 106 minutes of pure excitement. The ending is baffling, but not so unbelievable that it ruins the movie. A sequel was made two years later, but without Cassal.
On a range of one to five, I give The Crimson Rivers four solid stars. The only reason it doesn't get the full five is that the subplot is so extraordinary, it's hard to believe something like that could actually happen in the 21st century.