I got a sneaking sense throughout Fabrice Du Welz's second feature film that much of the "horror" might be of the xenophobic, funny-looking-locals variety, but in the end there's more to the film than that. It's solid in its themes, drenched in atmosphere, and boasts two powerhouse performances.
The story concerns a pre-middle-aged couple, played by Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Beart, who lost their son in the 2004 mega-tsunami. Jeanne is convinced that Joshua is still alive, in Burma. Paul isn't so sure, but goes along with the idea, out of love for his wife. They soon find themselves being ferried between obliterated coastal villages, funds dwindling, hope dwindling.
What ensues is an intense psychological drama, with elements of horror. It becomes clear that Paul and Jeanne have distorted their shared memory of their son. He becomes a corrupting element in their relationship; an object to be possessed, if only one parent can prove that their grief, and thus their love, is greater.
Paul and Jeanne, a haunted, mixed-nationality couple, stumbling through an alien culture, never fully emerge from the long shadow of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, but Vinyan has some ideas of its own. The Lord of the Flies-esque final sequences are particularly memorable and distressing, archetypal in their menace, and throughout Du Welz is imaginative in his manipulation of sound and image to increase our dis-ease.
In a sense, this is torture porn for the psyche, rather than the soma. The mental breakdown of both man and wife is protracted and uncomfortable; extreme and occasionally implausible, although never silly. Always, the spectre of grief looms, so it's hard not to feel for the characters - something that many modern horror movies cannot claim.
P.S. The Blu-Ray transfer on this movie is poor, so I would recommend the DVD.