In the hands of veteran helmer Jean-Pierre Mocky, novelist Carlene Thompson’s chilling “Black for Remembrance” becomes a puzzling entertainment that is slightly less frightening than an average episode of “Murder, She Wrote.” Which is appropriate, given the long TV career to which this uneven pic surely is destined.
Known for his deliberately unpolished, impatient comedies, Mocky here turns his iconoclastic attention to the thriller genre. He has arrayed many standard elements of a good teen splatter pic — threatening clowns, tattered dolls, voodoo candles, ghostly little girls — around a solid whodunit plot. But Mocky seems to have forgotten, along with the cast, that a thriller should be scary. Pic rushes from one murder to the next without once engaging audience empathy.
First moment is the strongest, a flashback to the abduction and murder of a 6 -year-old girl at a small-town dance. Seventeen years on, her long-separated parents — remarried Caroline (Jane Birkin) and drunken philanderer Chris (Matthias Habich) — each receive eerie messages suggesting their dead child has returned for some obscure vengeance.
Intrigued, a chain-smoking police detective (Jean-Francois Stevenin) tears himself away from bedding Caroline’s best friend (Sabine Azema) to reopen the investigation into the little girl’s murder. As he questions old suspects, a series of tastefully lensed killings ensues, leading him to believe that either the original murderer or a ghost has come back to polish off Caroline’s 6 -year-old daughter from a second marriage.
Given the numerous plot twists and revelations about past indiscretions, pic should have been a jolting, enjoyable ride toward denouement. Unfortunately, far too much nonchalant chatting undermines the whole exercise, as do the hurried, unconvincing perfs by Birkin, Stevenin and Azema.
The love-struck detective’s incessant nuzzling with Azema is more of a recurring irritant than an amusing subplot, as are Birkin’s clumsy confrontations with ex-hubby Habich. Only the late Benoit Regent, as the jealous second husband of Birkin, manages to evoke believable emotions.
Despite failing to create suspense, pic still amuses with the standard Mocky skewering of middle-class rituals and emphasis on the bizarre moment in everyday situations.
Tech credits are accomplished, and the Swiss towns of Baden and Schaffhausen are used to full effect. Edmond Richard’s lensing compensates, in part, for a script that explains more than it shows.