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5150 ELM’S WAY

After PONTYPOOL, this was the finest Canadian horror film of 2009, a consistently surprising, shocking and suspenseful chiller that plays like a particularly demented variant on THE STEPFATHER.

The Package
     The French Canadian novelist/screenwriter Patrick Senecal and director Eric Tessier previously collaborated on the impressive EVIL WORDS back in 2002. Like that film, 2009’s 5150 ELM’S WAY (5150, RUE DES ORMES) was based on a (thus far untranslated) novel by Senecal--and, as with the previous film, it has yet to attain a proper release in the US.
     2010, FYI, saw the release of another Senecal inspired French Canadian film, the Daniel Grou helmed LES 7 JOURS DU TALION, or 7 DAYS.

The Story
     Yannick is a naive film student who falls off his bike in an unfamiliar neighborhood. He approaches the first house in sight, located at 5150 Elm’s Way. The man who answers the door appears normal enough, but then Yannick, hearing screams emanating from inside the house, enters. He finds a severely injured man shut up in an upstairs room.
     This turns out to have been an extremely unwise move on Yannick’s part, as he’s stepped into a madhouse. The place is lorded over by Jacques Beaulieu, a psychopathic taxi driver who lives with his dissatisfied wife Maude, their overbearing teenage daughter Michelle and a much younger daughter who’s autistic.
     Yannick takes the place of the injured man in the upstairs room, and is subjected to horrific torture. Concurrently, the tensions within the family steadily mount: Beaulieu attempts to induct Michelle into his campaign of illicit murder but she’ll have none of it, while Maude is upset with Beaulieu’s decision to put their youngest daughter in an institution. As for the captive Yannick, he’s steadily losing his mind, visualizing his room filling with blood.
     But Beaulieu offers Yannick a way out of the torment: play him at chess, with which Beaulieu is obsessed, and if Yannick wins he’ll be let free. Beaulieu’s obsession goes far beyond the obvious perimeters, as he’s actually created a giant chessboard in his basement with the corpses of his many victims as chess pieces. Yannick takes to his part of the bargain with a bit too much enthusiasm--and then the human chess pieces begin talking to him…

The Direction
     This film’s early scenes would seem to portend yet another cookie-cutter entry in the so-called torture porn genre so popular in recent years, yet what transpires is consistently unique and unexpected. There are some pretty nasty elements, yet the film is as much a perverse family drama as it is a gorefest. All the characters are strong and well rounded, not to mention superbly acted by a strong cast, with Normand D’Amour as the psychotic Beaulieu being the standout.
     As a piece of filmmaking 5150 ELM’S WAY is unerringly slick, well visualized and impeccably paced by director Eric Tessier, who also incorporates some memorable but unobtrusive hallucinatory elements. Patrick Senecal’s script is a marvel of invention and intelligence, with many impossible-to-predict twists and some downright ingenious developments (in particular a videotape that Yannick, being a film student, makes about his ordeal that winds up in a most unexpected place). While the ending admittedly isn’t entirely satisfying (the fate of one pivotal character is left unexplained), Senecal and Tessier succeed in sustaining their film’s tension and inventiveness from start to profoundly bleak finish.
 

Vital Statistics

5150 ELM’S WAY (5150, RUE DES ORMES)
Alliance Vivafilm/Cirrus Communications

Director: Eric Tessier
Producer: Pierre Even
Screenplay: Patrick Senecal, Eric Tessier
(Based on a novel by Patrick Senecal)
Cinematography: Francois Dutil
Editing: Alain Baril
Cast: Marc-Andre Grondin, Normand D’Amour, Sonia Vachon, Mylene St-Sauveur, Elodie Lariviere, Catherine Berube, Normand Chouinard, Louise Bombardier, Pierre-Luc Lafontaine
 

     

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