Refreshingly Terrifying Marianne

French horror has always pushed the envelope with extreme terror, and Netflix has thrown its hat in the ring with its own contribution to the genre. This time though, we get some old-fashioned supernatural scares and imagery that will stay with you into the wee hours of the night with the series Marianne.

Emma Larsimon (Victoria Du Bois) is a famous horror author who rides her fame with rock n’ roll flare: she drinks too much, is flippant with her agent and publishers and has decided to kill off her main characters, a vengeful witch called Marianne and her vanquisher Lizzie Lark, to try something more adult. Emma also hides a secret. She was plagued by nightmares of Marianne when she was a teen, and after making her the subject of her novels, she stopped having the dreams and became rich.

When a high school friend Caroline (Aurore Broutin) comes to Emma’s very last book signing distraught, Emma is shaken with the news she brings her. Caroline’s mother (Mireille Herbstmeyer) is obsessed with the characters and books Emma has written, and Emma must go back to their hometown Elden to see her before she goes off the deep end.  Emma dismisses her old school chum as nutty, but when Caroline ends her life with a cryptic message to relay to her mother and the nightmares come back, Emma has no choice but to go back to her home town and not only see Caroline’s mother, but her own slightly estranged parents and face her high school friends. Once she’s back in town, Caroline’s mother is terrifyingly strange and insists Emma keep Marianne alive; and Emma must figure out what is real and what is a dream before her loved ones suffer irreversible consequences.

Du Bois as the troubled Emma.

It’s been a long time since I’ve found a series that kept me guessing and genuinely creeped out (and let it be know that all the spitting in the show skeeved this critic out). With nods to Stephen King, director Samuel Bodin creates a refreshing take on the writer going back home to deal with her demons. It’s an homage to the master with some gruesome visuals and absolutely brilliant scares built to creep the living daylights out of viewers, especially the dream sequences.  They are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, with classic tools like jump scares, unsettling camera angles and atmospheric scoring. It may sound run of the mill; however, they are used in new and unpredictable ways.

The solid horror writing paired with fantastic performances will appeal to those of us who devour horror novels.  Bodin along with his co-writer Quoc Dang Tran must do double duty since they have to create pages from Emma’s books as well as the script of the actual series. The mythology of Marianne is well though out and executed in a way that helps you absorb the information easily, and you’ll also find a clever, dark humor throughout the episodes, keeping things light amidst all the horror. The editing team of Dimitri Amar, Olivier Galliano and Richard Riffaud creates a sharp style that leaves a wonderful sense of dread and the viewer clamoring for more.

Herbstmeyer as Caroline’s mother Madame Daugeron leads the cast as the character of my nightmares.  Her unassuming, plain look hides the insanity and evil seething just beneath her frail looking, lined skin. Du Bois is a force as the defiant, emotionally stunted Emma, and the chemistry with the rest of the cast is apparent and the strength of this ensemble. There were a couple of characters I wanted to see more of, but to stay spoiler-free, I’ll mourn them in silence.

My hope for Marianne is that there is a healthy second season and more thrills in store for Emma Larsimon and her plagued life. See it streaming now on Netflix.

Book Review: Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity

Scholars and journalists Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati, hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcast, focus on in-depth analysis of the horror genre with a feminist approach that would sway the staunchest naysayer.  With their knowledge and background, it’s no surprise that West has recently written a book entitled Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity and after getting to meet the author herself, I had to buy a copy. Once I flipped past the first page I was hooked.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity came from a lecture West presented in 2014 for The Black Museum, a series put on by Subissati and Toronto-based writer and editor Paul Corupe where seasoned speakers and professionals in the horror genre present on various topics “from film theory to genre studies”.  It was here that her academic but extremely accessible book was born, and West successfully tracks the transition “from art-house films to full-fledged horror films” that came out of France from the early 90’s to the mid 2000’s.

The genre of New French Extremity is something that for a long time only a few could stomach or relate to. It is brutal, bloody and in your face, but West eases the reader in by giving you a solid base of French history and politics, along with the violence it spawned, in order to help you understand the environment these directors were coming from and the genesis of their films. In essence, French society tended to put a shiny veneer over the ills and wrongs of their actions, turning a blind eye to it all. These films attempt to peel back the shiny exterior of a country celebrated for its culture to show the societal warts that got bigger over centuries. While some of the filmmakers may have different approaches to their subject matter, be it murderous country folk, abused women, self-destructive characters or relentless serial killers, West brings them together to map their contributions to pushing societal, sexual and political boundaries, showing how their films soon became cinematic earmarks as well as social commentaries in the history of horror cinema and what is now considered a critical part of the genre.

Most horror critics and writers like myself have seen many of the films West writes about. I saw them because they were a) French and b) horror or taboo; things I love unconditionally, with Martyrs and High Tension sitting in prime positions on my shelves. They were terrifying films yet I was drawn to them. I couldn’t make connections other than they were all French and showed a darker side to the country I romanticized so much; dots on the same page without the lines to connect them. West is able to create threads of similarities with such coherence and logic, that any French extreme enthusiast feels a sense of almost relief as her analysis pinpoints characters, motivations and plotlines to make sense of the chaos you witness on-screen. All the chapters are riveting, but for those of you who search for some meaning from Martyrs as much as I have, West’s dissection and interpretation of the film comes very near to perfection.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity will resonate with those who love French Extreme cinema and those who have visited (and fallen in love with) France like myself; becoming lured by the romantic façade of an aloof yet beautiful country, only to scratch the surface revealing the grimy reality underneath.  Steeped in the history and culture of France, West’s book makes these admittedly horrifying films accessible and convey an understanding much like one would study a terrifying beast for meaning. It is truly a must read for any and all horror fans and academics out there looking for a comprehensive guide to the beginnings of French Extreme cinema.

[Previously published on Rosemary’s Pixie]