Published May 29, 2014With his fourth feature, 25-year-old Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan shows that he can cross genres with relative ease. So much ease, in fact, that he's willing to throw away a perfectly crafted premise in favour of advancing his trademark themes. Superlative critical response comparing him to no less than Hitchcock, however, is so overblown as to be laughable. We don't all have to run out proclaiming him as the new Hitchcock just because a filmmaker pays homage to him.
Tom (Dolan) arrives at the boyhood home of his recently deceased boyfriend Guillaume. Few cards are laid on the table during an early exchange with Guy's mother, so what fuels the opening 15 minutes are claustrophobic compositions and Gabriel Yared's eerie score. The stakes rise with the introduction of Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) as Guillaume's older brother. Francis is dead set on protecting the secret of Guy's orientation from their mother, and uses his imposing physical presence to intimidate Tom at every opportunity.
It's the (admittedly excellent) performance of Cardinal that takes the film off track. Typically, the adjective "unsettling" is a welcome one when talking about a psychological thriller, but Francis is so violent, nasty and brutish, and so infrequently off screen, that he becomes an oppressive fixture in the movie — it's like hanging out with a boorish and obnoxious monster for an hour-and-a-half.
Tom making a more diligent effort to escape the increasingly dangerous situation would offset this in a more effective film. Instead, Dolan imposes his primary theme — the desperate nature of certain types of desire — throughout. Francis shares physical characteristics with Guillaume, making Tom willing to endure all manner of violent, psychopathic behaviour just for a whiff of familiar body odour. This is an audacious advancement of the futile longing depicted in all of Dolan's work, but it betrays the main thrust of the film. Tom endures too much, and does too little to protect himself either emotionally or physically, until the masochistic proceedings have stretched the bounds of plausibility.