Cruel (2015) [Fantasia Film Festival]

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FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL

Pierre Tardieu lives a quiet life in Toulouse. He does day labor work and goes home to his ailing father at night. Visits to the book store seem to be his only escape along with reading to his father. That is, besides being a calculated serial killer. Pierre picks his victims randomly to purposefully not establish a pattern. He follows them first, and then brings them home where he feeds them and talks to them for a few days before murdering them. One day, as he goes to the bookstore to buy some notebooks, he meets Laure with whom he eventually falls in love. As their relationship blossoms, the cops are moving in on Pierre, not having any proof but strong suspicions as to his possible involvement in disappearances and murders in the city. Laure supports him through this not knowing all that is involved while working on getting his life better.

Cruel is probably the least violent and most relatable serial killer story in a while. The lead character fits the description of many random men in any given city. Pierre is that unassuming man who could live next door while no one notices him. He could be anyone on the street, unnoticeable from the masses, not ugly, not handsome, not violent, just normal. He also happens to fit the description or profile of most serial killers by law enforcement. He is a non-descript man, living a simple life. He’s almost invisible. This is how the Writer/Director of Cruel, Eric Cherriere, has created him and most of the other characters and situations in the movie. Every day people living normal lives. The writing here is masterful, the characters feel real, their conversations feel like you could hear them from anyone you know. However, this normality doesn’t give the movie any “oomph”. The film is well written but the lead character’s life is fairly boring to watch unfold. Yes, he is a serial killer; yes, he falls in love; yes, he has feelings and regrets even, but all of this does not add up to something very entertaining. It does however lull the viewer into watching the whole movie, maybe to see if anything will happen, maybe just because it’s a slice of regular life but for a serial killer.

Lead actor Jean-Jacques Lelte brings a calm presence to his character of Pierre throughout most of the movie, even during scenes involving his victims or while recounting the murders. He displays an almost untouchable coldness, except in scenes with his character’s father and his new girlfriend where he shows some warmth and definite care. His performance is subdued and the emotional range is subtle but effective. Lelte’s interpretation is all about small nuances for most of the film. Supporting him in the part of Laure, Pierre’s girlfriend, is Magali Moreau who brings a light to the proceedings. She is a bit more expressive which contrasts well with Lelte. Her part is however smaller and not a constant presence so her light is not involved at all times. Also supporting Lelte but a more subtle way is Maurice Poli as Pierre’s elderly, disabled father. All of his acting is done with his eyes and a rare few facial expressions. His work here is minimal yet has a big impact; he makes the viewer care about Pierre’s father and about Pierre’s situation. The rest of the cast gets limited screen time and each does good, not sticking out and serving only to add to Pierre’s story.

As Cruel is a serial killer story, special effects are to be expected but they are kept to almost nothing for most of the movie. Yes, there is blood, but no gore per se and what there is of blood is so little, it most likely will not disturb anyone. This is most likely wanted and planned that way. The murders are not bloody or explicit but they still feel violent, which shows the effectiveness of the “less is more” approach here.

All of this said, the film is not very grabbing. It just leaves the viewer not really caring about most of the characters in the story. It’s an interesting character story nonetheless, but it’s not entertaining for most of the run time. A few scenes are, but that is not quite enough to fully recommend the film.