Film Review: Left Bank (Linkeroever) (2008)

SYNOPSIS:

Marie is a dedicated track athlete. One day, she suddenly collapses due to an infection in her immune system, and is forced to rest. She meets Bobby , a handsome archer and soon moves into his apartment in Left Bank district of the Belgian port town of Antwerp. The Left Bank itself is a district just outside Antwerp where exiles and lepers used to live in medieval times. Life seems good until Marie discovers that the previous tenant of the apartment, a woman, has mysteriously disappeared. As Marie explores her environment, she discovers a dark and ancient side to the Left Bank district, and a secret society linked to witchcraft.

REVIEW:

The Examination: A remarkable dark tale of the supernatural, which incorporates black magic along with the bizarre.
Director: Pieter Van Hees
Cast: Eline Kuppens, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sien Eggers, Tom De Wispelaere, Marilou Mermans.

A sinister film from Belgium, Pieter Van Hees’s debut feature is a thought provoking dark story of ancient rituals and demonic intervention. It is a remarkable dark tale of the supernatural, which incorporates black magic along with the bizarre. Do not expect gore, but instead a slow build to induce ideas of the unsettling. This film has sinister and delightful elements similar to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Wicker Man (1971). You can expect high caliber production, an effective use of sound, striking cinematography, top notch editing, and great performances.

The film opens with images of an old black and white map and the sounds of medieval monks chanting. The map fades into the grey waters of the port and cuts to a dream sequence with the female lead, Marie (Eline Kuppens), descending into darkness.

The story centers around Marie, a young track athlete that has dedicated herself to qualifying for the European track running championships in Portugal. She is a perfect combination of strength, determination, and vulnerability. But when her doctor rules out further training because she has exhausted herself, and prescribes a month of bed rest, her world begins to fall apart.

While at an athletic park, Marie is approached by Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), an archer and used car salesman. She is instantly attracted to his forwardness and good looks. He’s the president of the archer’s guild which stretches back to the Middle Ages, and lives in a housing commission-style apartment block on Left Bank, an area once used in medieval pagan rites. Not to mention, he interestingly wears a golden charm around his neck, a dragon devouring its own tail in an eternal circle. The two begin dating and we quickly see the passion lighting up between them; sex in a forest, a picnic on the beach, but when Marie finds dark ash staining her underwear, we begin to assume that all is not quite as perfect as it may seem.

Finding it difficult to stay home with her clairvoyant mother (Sien Eggers), Marie decides to move in with Bobby. She meets several of Bobby’s weird neighbors, which I use the word weird sparingly. To pass time, Marie starts to uncover the secrets of the building and the disappearance of the last inhabitant of the apartment, a woman named Hella. Marie discovers that Left Bank was built on the site of a village that practiced sinister, pre-Christian rituals for centuries. Still, she’s disturbed that Hella, who lived in Bobby’s place before he did, disappeared suddenly one autumn night and was never heard from again. Perhaps Left Bank’s cellar and the assistance of Dirk (Tom De Wispelaere), Hella’s boyfriend, can provide the key to the mystery of her disappearance.

Marie eventually makes her way down to the cellar where she discovers a sealed box labelled samh—n ( two letters are obscured). It is here that she begins learn the medieval sacrificial rite known as Samhein that involves Pagan re-birth and demonic intervention. Wanting to know more, Marie’s curiosity compels her to keep searching where she comes across a dark pit in “cellar 51” of the apartment complex. This is when Marie’s problems really get started and her descent into darkness, doubt, dread, paranoia and helplessness in the face of an ancient, unknowable evil, begins.

I will leave the ending a mystery, as this film is a must see for the intelligent occult, horror, mystery, exploitation crowd. It delivers a substantive shock with its intriguing and thought provocative story, exuding an atmosphere of authenticity, and mysterious elements of black magic and the occult. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with this film. Definitely a must see if you’re seeking a breath of fresh air from Hollywood!

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