The screening link I watched for Stéphan Castang’s feature debut, Vincent Must Die, starts off post-credits with a funny little edit. I don’t think it was part of the movie, glitch or no, but the rest basically falls into place from top to bottom so as to not distract from this review’s intent.
The film took off pretty well while at Cannes and has since begun plotting its commercial releases with XYZ Films taking stateside. Karim Leklou stars along with Vimala Pons, François Chattot and Michaël Perez for a story already subject to largely prasieworthy reviews, and even festival programming notes via Fantasia likening Castang’s work to that of Edgar Wright, sans sprightly editing and overtly comical flair.
Rather, screenwriter Mathieu Naert takes things down a slightly more darker route while upholding the absurdity and laughs at times. Deadpan energy punctuates the violence a few times amid the multiple spurts of chaos that ensue whenever graphic designer Vincent (Leklou) is mysteriously attacked for no reason. Between co-workers, random strangers and even children, all it takes is one look and Vincent has no choice but to run for cover or suffer the unhinged wrath of randos looking to unalive.
Forced into hiding and already entrenched in paranoia, Vincent fortunately crosses paths with a man known only as JoaquimDB (Perez) who is in the same predicament, and is part of a vast network that congregates online to trade tips on how to survive the attacks. He also meets a diner waitress named Margaux (Pons) who’s got her own share of problems and soon enough, desperately seeks refuge in Vincent’s car away from two rowdy biker loansharks.
Throughout all this exposition, Vincent Must Die does little to explain the phenomenon that initiates our plot the way it does. In place of the mystery however is the background noise of news alerts discussing anomalies around France as part of a wider societal problem. There’s also some dog psychology involved, and one character discussing a rather peculiar way of calming an upset dog down.
The rest of the film deals with the ordeal placed before Vincent and Margaux as they trek a harrowing journey to survive the violent onslaught that’s consumed France. That ultimately includes finding a way to prevent the unthinkable with the help of loyal pitbull, Sultan, as Vincent’s only north star.
It’s only minutely frustrating that the source of the violent outbreak remains a mystery, although it’s worth suspending disbelief for the sake of the characters and overall absorption of events. There’s even a shot at the end which I comprehended as more of a parable on faith which I thought was poignant.
Culminating the film’s danger element is the key action – with sequences by Emmanuel Lanzi and his brilliant team – where Leklou’s title character is forced to fend off his attackers. A few of these incidents look just as bad as the optics at times, namely when Vincent arrives to his tower block and the whole ordeal ends up summoning the parents and multiple neighbors all thinking the same thing for the wrong reasons.
The darkest moment throughout Vincent’s ongoing survival first happens near the countryside house where he’s staying, where a simple check-up of clogged pipes revealing a huge, lumpy puddle (and that’s all I’m calling it) finds him, you guessed it, fighting for his life. I’m hinting to it here – the scrap is not a pretty sight if you have a soft stomach, and the horror of that fracas doesn’t end there.
Treading between “love story” and “dystopian survival horror thriller” with a film like Vincent Must Die takes a bit of time before things are fully fleshed out. Ultimately it prioritizes playing a bit fast and loose which, to its benefit, avoids performing as film that takes itself more seriously than audiences may prefer. The result is a compelling, often unnerving satire piece with performances and a story that never loses sight of fun while keeping you on your toes.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.