La Chasse-Galerie, or the Flying Canoe (aka The Bewitched Canoe) is a well-known legend from Québec about a group of travelers making a deal with the devil to get home. In this cinematic version of it set in 1863, a group of men travelling home are slowed down by a snow storm. After they request help, the devil gives them a flying canoe to take them home but with some conditions that come with harsh punishment if not followed. After one of them cheats the devil, vengeance is taken on his descendant 25 years later.
In this film written by Guillaume Vigneault and directed by Jean-Philippe Duval, the devil bids his time until his time comes to work hard to take his cheater’s daughter’s happiness from her. The way the story is written makes it all about the characters and just a touch about the legend. Of course, the legend being the opener and coming back later, it is important to the story, but the film is more about people and what some are willing to do, good or bad, for love while some are ready to go for to be successful in other fields. The film explores this and also how society worked in the late 1800s Québec which in and of itself is interesting. The way this is all written makes it entertaining and easy to watch. This thriller may very well teach a few people a thing or two about history without them feeling like that’s what’s happening.
The cast of Chasse-Galerie is led by Francis Ducharme as Jos Lebel, Caroline Dhavernas as Liza Gilbert, François Papineau as Jack Murphy, and Vincent-Guillaume Otis as Romain Boisjoli. These are just a few of a wide cast and they play the 4 main characters with conviction and talent. Caroline Dhavernas has possibly the most interesting character along with Francis Ducharme. Their characters’ interactions are realistic for their time period and their desires and hopes are something that still resonates to this day. Their performances are the shining ones in the group and their lead gives the ton to the film. Being the two characters with the most screen time, their presence and chemistry is important it works. The rest of the cast is also quite good, with none of them sticking out with a bad performance which creates a strong ensemble.
Chasse-Galerie being a period piece, the acting and way of speaking had to be appropriate for their time period and location, which is something that was clearly paid attention to. Also done with a high attention to detail is the art direction which leads into the costumes and décor being on point. The art direction by Sylvain Dion pays attention to every detail of the film, from the settings to the sets while the costumes add to the settings with being historically accurate and conscious of the location and how far from the city the bulk of the film takes place. These with make-up and hair create an immersive environment almost where the viewer can really feel like they are there. The fact that the outdoors scenes were shot in actual winter makes them feel cold when the characters’ breaths show. This film looks and feel like it was properly planned, if that makes sense, while also feeling like just having been dropped in late 1800s Québec based on what this reviewer has learned in history class and history of fashion class.
The film mixes this authentic feel with an old-school Canadian legend to create a story that is interesting and keeps the attention. A lot of this has to do with the delivery and how the denouement brings things together. The film has talented acting, great settings and costumes, good pace, and is easy to watch even for those completely unfamiliar with the legend. Those familiar with the legend will understand what is going on a bit faster but it will not take away from their enjoyment. The legend of the flying canoe is explored in a manner that respects its spirit and connects it to the characters and to the viewers while doing so. The attention to detail here is something that is worth mentioning more than once as it adds a lot to the film and the story. It’s an easy watch that is set at the Holiday season for most of its runtime, so perfect for a cold December night watch.