Peril is a sleek drama of eroticism and murder from Michel Deville, who is finally earning the commercial success that has evaded his last few films, including Deep Water, a failed attempt to adapt a Patricia Highsmith novel. Based on a French novel [Rene Belletto’s Sur la terre comme au ciel], Peril finds the tone of disturbing ambiguity and perversity missing in Deep Water, though the conventional, overexplicit denouement dilutes the overall effect. Still for most of its length, pic intrigues by its camera virtuosity, cryptic dialog and shadowy characterizations.
Christophe Malavoy is David, an unsuspecting guitar instructor hired by a well-heeled suburban couple, Julia and Graham Tombsthay (Nicole Garcia, Michel Piccoli), to give lessons to their teenage daughter. Latter (Anais Jeanneret) is nubile and seemingly attracted to Malavoy, but mother is quicker on the sexual draw and beds the young man in no time, visiting him at his Paris loft.
David drifts on the erotic currents, not overly concerned with the apparent complicity of Julia’s husband or the prying of a voyeuristic neighbor (Anemone). Complications arise when videocassette recordings of their trysts are mailed to the lovers.
A new element in the drama comes in the form of Daniel, a professional killer (Richard Bohringer), who saves David from a mugger and befriends him, apparently out of homosexual impulse. Daniel soon admits he has a contract out on Graham, and warns David about his involvement.
Deville’s direction is stealthy and stylish, aided by Martial Thury’s gliding camera and Raymonde Guyot’s sly editing, which enforce the feeling of deepenning insecurity. Fine use of limpid themes by Brahms, Schubert and Granados offer contrast to the unsettling events.