Written by: jay_wigger
The film: When films try to hop from genre to genre they often end up falling flat or missing their mark. What saves Sheitan from this fate is the brilliantly over-the-top performance of Vincent Cassel (Ocean's Twelve, Irreversible).
Sheitan kicks off with three young guys in a club the night before Christmas Eve getting drunk and trying to score with the women. In a scene reminiscent of Go, some violent yet funny hijinks ensue and eventually the guys hook up with two girls and head off to Eve's (Roxane Mesquida, Sex is Comedy) home in the countryside. This is where we meet Cassel's Joseph and the film takes a turn into Deliverance territory. Joseph is the custodian of Eve's parents' property, and makes quite a first impression on the gang. He keeps his pregnant wife Marie (Joseph and Marie, get it? You can see where this is leading) hidden away, as she is due to give birth at any time now. Needless to say, Eve's parents aren't home and the group of youngsters get set for a Christmas to remember. Bart, Ladj, and Thai are only interested in one thing, and that is getting busy with the ladies, Eve and Yasmine. But Joseph is always lurking in the shadows. You see, he's making a doll for the newborn baby and he needs some parts. And this is where the film comes full circle and enters Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory.
This type of genre-hopping is common for first-time feature directors trying to establish themselves. Director and co-screenwriter Kim Chapiron is a member of Kourtrajme, a sort of co-op of French artists who work together in various media, including music videos, television, and short films. The three actors who play the young guys are also members of Kourtrajme and you can see how they've worked together before, as they have a good chemistry together onscreen, feeding off each other's lines and movements. Everybody has done a competent enough job in Sheitan, but the real saving grace of the film is Vincent Cassel as Joseph. He infuses the character with the perfect combination of humor and menace and you can just feel that he is enjoying himself immensely. Cassel actually co-produced Sheitan as part of the Wild Bunch, another collective of French and British artists.
The most powerful scene in the film is when the group sit together for Christmas Eve dinner (minus Marie, of course), and proceed to eat, drink and be merry. Cassel is really in his element here and Joseph manages to create a sense of camaraderie with the rest of the group. They discuss why they do or don't celebrate Christmas and the whole scene turns into a sort of religious philosophizing until Joseph comes out of left field with a completely strange little story, and that's where the fun of the rest of the film starts.
The DVD: The disc doesn't offer much in terms of features, though. Apart from Sheitan's theatrical trailer and trailers for four other Tartan Video releases, all we get is a "making-of" hosted by Vincent Cassel that's really more about how he hooked up with Kourtrajme and how he knew he wanted to work with them because of their raw enthusiasm and decided to co-produce Sheitan because of it than it is about the actual making of the movie. This being the group's first full-length film, a good part of the documentary is dedicated to the intensive acting workshop that Cassel set up for them.
Final thoughts: If you're a fan of strong acting performances and style over substance, then Sheitan is definitely a film you'll want to see; as Joseph, Vincent Cassel seems to be having the time of his life. As for the film itself, it's not anything I haven't seen done better countless times before. If you're not sure whether to rent Deliverance or Go, you can rent Sheitan instead...you'll get two for the price of one.
Originally reviewed at www.ioncinema.com