Belgium doesn’t get much press. Nice beer and chocolate are pretty much all that it has going for it. Working against it is probably the fact that it has a similar climate to the UK.
As far as film is concerned, it’s hard to think of any Belgian successes, and when it comes to horror, the job is even more difficult.
That could be about to change though, as Left Bank is set to make its mark on the global cinematic map.
Looking back at director Pieter Van Hees’ previous works, it looks as though he has been involved in a funny mixture of projects. Quite surprising when you see the quality of this feature. There’s nothing confusing or amateurish about Left Bank, okay, perhaps a little confusing, but that’s more the story that the way in which it’s put together.
Marie is a Belgian athlete, a runner to be exact. She’s fast, and is determined to succeed, but in forcing herself to be the best, she is making a lot of sacrifices. All the training isn’t great for her, and her relationships with her parents and friends aren’t good. As a result she isn’t very happy.
There is a place known as the Left Bank (or Linkeroever), a piece of land that sits opposite the centre of the city of Antwerp. Here there is grass, a tranquility of sorts and some exclusive apartment blocks.
Bobby, an olympic archer, has a place there and after getting to know Marie better, invites her to stay while she recouperates from a sports injury.
But there is a negativity about the place and soon Marie’s mother and Dirk, the boyfriend of one of the Left Bank’s former inhabitants (that went missing), start to worry that Marie may be in danger.
It’s soon apparent that the inhabitants of Left Bank have a dark history, cults or strange, secretive groups have long been associated with the area and legend has it that they aren’t very nice people. Beneath one of the blocks is a dark hole which is said to be a portal to the underworld, sacrifices were even known to have been made there.
The question is, will Marie’s curiosity save her from being involved in this ancient ritual or will she seal her own fate?
She isn’t happy and feels that she has made some bad decisions in her life. Is staying at Left Bank let another example of her poor judgement, or is it perhaps a way for her to put things right?
The pace of the film is rather slow, but in an intentional way. The level of uncertainty that the viewer feels is very much down to the way that they have to wait for prolongued periods of time to figure out what’s going on. Time isn’t wasted though, as areas of silence are filled with great imagery and vise-versa.
Weird and wonderful, Left Bank is reminiscent of the much acclaimed Let the Right One In. Deep, dark, slightly perculiar and thoroughly enjoyable.
Even the points of on screen inactivity are fascinating with beautiful shots, absorbing dialogue and the intriguing tale beneath it.
The visuals are immersive. The Left Bank itself is a dream-like underworld, a different dimension, separated from the city – or reality – by the thin veil that is the river.
It’s hard to tell if any of the characters that reside there are real. And the longer Marie stays, the more like ‘them’ she becomes.
Even the throbbing soundtrack seems connected to the place, the heartbeat of this piece of land which seems to be very much alive.
Look yet deeper and there are lots of arty bits and pieces that will appeal to the film conoisseurs out there. Symbology, hidden meanings, an essay writers heaven.
To make it clear, you will not be disturbed by this film. It’s level of horror is very much down to how you interpret it. In fact, in some ways it might not even be perceived as being horror.
But there are definate elements that are reminiscent of other horror classics, such as The Wicker Man and Rosmary’s Baby and Marie’s journey is far from a pleasant one.
If you fancy some European horror with a difference, Left Bank is an excellent choice. A sleeping giant emerging from DVD limbo and set to take us all by surprise.
Left Bank is out on DVD from 10th May.