Adrien (Julien Botzanowski) is a writer who is sent to cover the opening of a guest house in rural France. A few miles from the property, his car suddenly has trouble running and the issues only get worse at the property itself when his laptop won’t boot up. And that’s just the start of the strangeness…
The French countryside has always been a draw for me in terms of horror movies, with one of my all-time favourites, Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl, being set there, as well as his intriguing eco-disaster/infection chiller The Grapes Of Death which is also well worth checking out. The less said about Zombie Lake the better but Rollin was drafted in at the last moment and even he couldn’t salvage a workable movie from the mess he’d inherited.
What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that despite the beautiful setting there’s always the feeling of something otherworldly and scary lurking somewhere in those artfully crafted, slightly ramshackle buildings or borne out of the terroir. This is true for Rutabaga, in which there’s something clearly up from the off. There has to be, or there wouldn’t be much of a movie.
There are the usual technological hiccups which make communication with the outside world somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible. In terms of potential rescue, Adrien’s kind of shot his bolt there as well – in the opening scene we’ve already watched him have an argument with his girlfriend which results in the two of them parting on bad terms. He does have friend Dimitri (Renaud Wallon) whom he calls upon for directions when his online maps don’t work but there’s no telling how reliable Dimitri will be in a crisis. He certainly doesn’t come across like, say, Rod from Get Out.
The staff at the guest house don’t seem entirely normal either – owner Monsieur Pierre (Serge Barbagallo), housekeeper Mademoiselle Agathe (Anouchka Csernakova) and maid Hélène (the wonderfully named Capucine Lamargue) are all a little off beam in their own ways. However, it’s Hélène with whom Adrien makes the most instant connection and their initial forays downstairs to steal Pierre’s brandy evolve into a more focused investigation of the place as they attempt to make sense of the odd visions they’ve been having.
Even at just 70 minutes in length, Rutabaga feels like it would have worked better as a one-off drama to fit into an hour-long slot with ads. It feels like a short story which has been bulked out by stretching some of the scenes between its protagonists. Languidly paced despite its short run time, the will to build up atmosphere and tension is evident but the story is too lacking in incident until the last quarter of an hour, when the ultimate reveal is unveiled and the film finally settles into its horror groove.
It’s not that the low budget works against the piece, as it’s cleanly shot, decently edited and the performances are fine. It’s just that the story takes an awfully long time to get anywhere and the protagonists are sufficiently well-rounded or quirky enough to keep you fully invested in their plight while the film’s treading water.
If you’re a gorehound, you’re not going to be overly thrilled with the payoff to this one as all of the carnage happens off screen. The lack of blood and guts can be effective, as in the moment where someone makes a grisly discovers as they look through a doorway to a place we can’t see. This works because the actor sells it well and although we don’t know what/who has been found we can guess
that it’s sick making. In the main, though, it would have been nice to have just a splash of on-screen gore as opposed to a spray of red from out of shot.
One thing I can say though is that fans of soup may get a lot more out of this than I did. Soup is served, discussed, shown in close-up and is even given a major plot point. It’s like Jack Monroe doing a supernatural version of one of her excellent Bootstrap Cook recipes. Granted, if soup-based horror floats your croutons then grab your spoon and dive in. As for, the gastronomic reveal didn’t satisfy and I was left wishing that I’d been given something more substantial.
Rutabaga certainly isn’t terrible and the striking Capucine Lamargue possesses the subtly outlandish presence required here but it’s irksome that the whole thing doesn’t amount to more. Still, there’s potential here, even if this outing left me a little cold.