Rotterdam 2024: THE SOUL EATER Blends Police Procedural With Fantasy Horror

The latest film by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is great and still delivers on horror, even though they have switched genres.

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Rotterdam 2024: THE SOUL EATER Blends Police Procedural With Fantasy Horror

When Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury stormed onto the scene with A L'Interieur it was with a promise that was central to the appeal of that film: "we are not gonna pull any punches". As important linchpins of the New French Extremity, that film's central premise, a pregnant woman having to shield herself from a violent home invader, really promised a grim, bleak and taboo breaking filmmaking duo. With later films, they constantly tried to push boundaries with what they could do as directors, to sometimes mixed results. But Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury never are lazy: their films deconstruct horror, explore societal taboos, and go as far as you can go in mainstream horror. The Soul Eater is a fitting addition to that oeuvre, even though the deconstructionist approach here means that for the first time in their oeuvre, the main genre that Bustillo and Maury operate in is not horror. It's that of the police procedural.

The central premise is such: two cops are forced to work together when two separate cases seem to be connected. There is the double murder of two people in a small village, who apparently have killed and cannibalized each other in a murder-suicide, while, as the coroner states "climaxing several times". There is also the case of 6 missing children, who, according to the child of the two murdered parents, are taken by the local legend "The Soul Eater", a boogeyman from an old wives tale. Both the murder scene and the missing children's case promise darker corners for the viewers who know Bustillo and Maury's oeuvre well, and on that front the film more than delivers. The final chapter of the film is chillingly unnerving in its implications. While Bustillo and Maury luckily shy away from showing some of the most fucked up stuff, this film still might prove to be way too gory for the regular audiences of Nordic Noir and the likes.

The main critique I have with this film is in the genre clash between police procedural and gore horror. Operating on both those levels means that for a long time Bustillo and Maury play coy with some of the aspects of the film. Are we watching a supernatural horror? Or is every clue firmly set in the real world? Loath to give away some of the twist and turns, I must say that while the film delivers a satisfying finale, the road towards it is a bit bumpy. Not only are some of the red herrings clunkily introduced, but some of the answers are telegraphed too loudly. For a whodunnit it is admirable that every pay-off is introduced earlier in the film, but the keen viewer might be far ahead of the cops at times. And that makes some of the scenes in the films functionary and fairly rote.

IFFR2024-souleater-ext1.jpgBut there is more than enough here to recommend The Soul Eater to the viewers who like their police procedurals fairly dark and fucked up. Because on the horror front, the duo more than deliver, giving us a few fairly challenging and bloody murder scenes that might make even some of the stronger stomached viewers look away.

What also really helps is that, even if the twists are obvious, the cast sell them amazingly well. Both Paul Hamy and Virginie Ledoyen as the leads give some of their career best performances, with Hamy especially given a gravitas to his role that show how versatile he really is as an actor. Ledoyen gets less to work with as a stern and hardened cop, but she delivers where it counts. It is the strength of their performances that sell the emotional beats of the film. When the twists stop surprising and the horror fades away, you are left with a story of two broken characters trying to fix things. The Soul Eater might have some minor slip-ups among the route, the emotional core is satisfying enough to call this the most successful Bustillo and Maury collaboration since Livide.

The Soul Eater had its world première at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and will be travelling along the festival circuit afterwards.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.

Around the Internet