“Vinyan,” Belgian writer-helmer Fabrice du Welz’s foray into English-language filmmaking, is a convoluted genre exercise that doesn’t go down as smoothly as the long list of co-producers undoubtedly hoped. Intermittently compelling, Southeast Asia-set supernatural thriller plays like an uneasy combo of “Don’t Look Now” and Thai ghost stories. Despite some haunting images and an eerily transcendent perf from Emmanuelle Beart, general auds will find it hard to overlook the plot’s gaping holes and loose ends. Not completely satisfying for the Fangoria crowd, either, it’s unlikely to break out of the upscale horror ghetto.
The narrative centers on Jeanne (Beart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell), a European couple unable to accept the loss of their young son in the 2005 tsunami. Because they never recovered his body, Jeanne is obsessed with the idea that he’s been kidnapped by traffickers.
Loosely structured in three acts, pic follows the couple from Phuket to remote, outside-the-law jungle villages on the Thai-Burma border, and finally to the spirit world of the vinyan, souls unable to rest because of untimely deaths.
Opening section’s gritty, realistic tone is undermined some 20 minutes in, when Paul agrees to pay criminals an enormous sum to transport them into outlaw territory. Second segment stresses the contrast between the privileged couple and the world they enter, and includes superfluous exotica. Nightmarish finale features the gruesome scene fanzines have been buzzing about.
The loose script permits various readings. Some might find its subtext about horrors of parenthood and a mother choosing offspring over husband, while others may find merely pretension and a lack of humor.
From the opening moments, the film belongs to Beart, who gives a performance of unsurpassed intensity in what look to be rather uncomfortable circumstances. Unfortunately, Sewell isn’t able to find equal depths in his character. Some of the Thai thesps register strongly, particularly Petch Osathanugrah, while others come off as caricatures.
Continuing his collaboration with du Welz (“The Ordeal”), talented lenser Benoit Debie provides some of the spookiest jungle cinematography this side of “Apocalypse Now.” Scene of a naked Jeanne suffering her own personal calvary at the hands of mud-covered cannibal children has to be seen to be believed.
Behind-the-scenes credits are top-notch, particularly the sound design, although the hallucinatory visuals play stronger than the actual gore.