By Ray Bennett
CANNES – The potential perils of anonymity on the Internet are employed for sinister effect in Gilles Marchand’s “Black Heaven” (L’Autre Monde), an intelligent thriller in which the suspense takes its time but pays off well at the end.
The tale of a decent French kid caught up in a dangerously seductive interactive online game, with many scenes set inside the game itself, should prosper in French-speaking territories and is well worth a look for an English-language remake.
Things start off slowly with youthful lovers Gaspard (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) and Marion (Pauline Etienne) enjoying the summer by the beach. Finding a lost mobile phone, their curiosity is piqued by images on it of a beautiful blonde and text messages by the man who presumably owns the phone that suggest intrigue and a secret assignation.
As a lark, the youngsters go to the appointed meeting place, spot the couple and follow them into the woods where, to their horror, the pair attempts suicide having tied a pipe to their car’s exhaust. The man dies, but Gaspard and Marion save the blonde.
Gaspard also pockets a video camera placed on the dashboard of the suicidal couple’s vehicle. Viewing it alone, he discovers that the blonde, named Sam (Louise Bourgoin, pictured), plays an avatar videogame called “Black Hole” and quickly obtains a copy and goes inside.
Through a somewhat contrived coincidence, Gaspard also meets the hot-blooded and tempting blonde in real life. Despite his affection for Marion and a warning from the woman’s brother, Vincent (Melvil Poupard), that she is not well and was only just released from hospital, he falls under her spell.
As sequences alternate between real events and the artificiality of the world of the videogame, the picture appears to lose its way in the middle section, but it turns out that director and co-writer Marchand knows what he’s doing and where he’s going. The twists, when they come, are riveting.
Leprince-Ringuet and Etienne are fresh-faced and appealing as the youngsters and they handle the early innocence and growing alarm with assurance, while Poupard is effective in making Vincent both sympathetic and potentially threatening.
It is Bourgoin that most moviegoers will remember, however, with a peachy sex appeal that she makes electric but also with the capacity to demonstrate great inner turmoil and inconsolable sadness.
Venue: Festival de Cannes, Out of Competition; Cast: Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Louise Bourgoin, Melvil Poupard, Pauline Etienne; Director: Gilles Marchand; Writers: Gilles Marchand, Dominik Moll; Director of photography: Celine Bozon; Production designer: Jeremie Sfez; Music: Anthony Gonzales; Costume designer: Joana George-Rossi; Editor: Nelly Quettier; Production: Haut et Court; Sales: Memento Films International; Not rated; running time, 100 minutes.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.