Fantasia 2023 Review: VINCENT MUST DIE, A Black Comedy About Getting Beaten Up By Strangers
Have you ever come across a person who, while they may make absolutely zero impact on your day, still has a face you just want to punch? That’s Vincent (Karim Leklou), a passionless, personality-free office worker who is having the worst day. It’s nothing he’s done, really, but for some reason he keeps getting attacked by his co-workers. He makes a bad joke to an intern and gets punched in the mouth, he sits near another and gets stabbed in the arm, and the day has just begun.
Director Stéphan Castang’s debut feature finds Vincent on the run from a world full of people who are trying to kill him. There is no rhyme or reason, no inciting incident, just a swarm of violent humanity attempting to snuff him out anytime he makes eye contact. Chased away from his job after HR suggests he take a break following the stabbing, Vincent soon learns that it isn’t confined to the office, and his world closes in on him as he must now try to stay alive and away from people at all costs.
He wasn’t much of a social butterfly to begin with, and his girlfriend did just break up with him, so he has no real connections, but this is a different kind of isolation. He runs off to a rural family cabin thinking he’ll be safe, but it seems that no place is far enough to avoid the world’s rage against him.
It’s a rough life, and one at which he’s frantically grasping at straws to navigate, but with a little (or a lot) of maneuvering maybe he can make a life for himself. Or maybe he’ll just get beaten to death in a sewage pit. It’s really a toss-up.
Castang’s absurdist black comedy thriller mines the anxiety that follows a lot of wallflowers in their daily lives. Vincent is one of those people who is comfortable fading into the background, but refusing to engage with people means that you never forge the bonds of real friendship, so any acquaintance is surface level at best. What happens when that bond is tested? Who can you really trust, are your friends just tolerating you? Would they punch your stupid face if given the slightest provocation? It’s not the only question being asked by the film, but certainly one of the most relatable.
The script by Mathieu Naert, also making his feature debut, ratchets up the tension quite effectively through the course of the film. While I enjoyed the film and the work done by both Naert and Castang, the hour and forty-minute run time does feel a bit stretched at times. Both filmmakers have a lot of shorts in their respective CVs, and as a result Vincent Must Die – when it slows down – can feel like a short film stretched beyond its capacity to entertain. Thankfully the film introduces additional characters and predicaments that keep the flow going.
Particularly engaging is the relationship between Vincent and his accidental lover Margaux (Vimala Pons). At first just a kind woman who dutifully delivers food to his car, so he doesn’t have to enter a diner and risk bodily harm, their relationship evolves as she learns about his situation and is sympathetic to his plight. The way they negotiate the transition from acquaintances to something more reflects the way the world attempted to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis over the last few years. Their romantic canoodlings, carefully designed not to instigate violence, evolve in a cute sort of way, even with the occasional oopsie that may land with a bloody nose.
Vincent’s inner turmoil over his personal dilemma soon becomes a national concern as the phenomenon affects the entire country, plunging it into violent chaos as no one can seem to look their neighbor in the eye without the unstoppable urge to absolutely wreck them. No one is safe, brother turns on brother, child turns on mother, it’s almost as if an epidemic is ravaging the country and you never know who is going to get you. Hmmm. Sounds familiar.
While I did have minor issues with the connective tissue and occasionally the pacing of the character scenes, overall, I found Vincent Must Die to be a very entertaining outing. Leklou’s performance as the put-upon victim or random acts of violence is compelling and warmly invites empathy. Castang’s direction, particularly in the action sequences, is very effective and keeps the film moving between the more contemplative bits. A little bit 28 Days Later, a little bit The Quiet Place, and a lot The Sadness, Vincent Must Die is a must see.
Vincent Must Die
- Stéphan Castang
- Mathieu Naert
- Karim Leklou
- Vimala Pons
- François Chattot