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Film Review: And Then I Was French @ East End Film Festival 2016

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★★★

Coming-of-age meets Euro-style psycho-thriller in Claire Leona Apps’ bizarre, surreal and often rather heavy-handed debut. 

You can say many, many things about this low-rent, slow-burn chiller, but predictable it certainly is not. It’s worth adding that that’s not always a good thing, though. 

And Then I Was French follows social-struggler and cultural nobody Cara (Joanna Vanderham), a fresh-faced massage student who suddenly begins to peel out of her shell when she sets her sights on Jay (Lewis Rainer), a confident and insanely pretentious American in her class. 

When she’s introduced to not only Jay’s arrogant and dangerous older brother (Tom Forbes) but also his sultry French girlfriend Natasha (Albane Courtois) though, sparks begin to fly and Cara decides that being herself is no longer quite good enough. Dark desires take over and oddness reigns. 

It’s true that the narrative certainly lends itself, at least a tad, to the world of the teen drama, but Apps’ influences in Euro body horror and classical slashers are far more dominating throughout. What begins as what one might see as a simple coming-of-age story soon morphs into something much more expansive, although sadly, it never quite pushes the envelope far enough. 

Vanderham is an interesting lead for sure, her Cara, particularly in the film’s first two acts is a seriously complicated and fractured human being. She seems to barely understand her own thoughts and desires, and feels somewhat isolated from the drama that surrounds her, but unfortunately Apps seems too preoccupied with ramping up the nastiness of her supporting characters and Cara too often feels left in the dark. 

Huge lumps of characterisation, including some insanely important personality shifts, seem to happen in-between frames, swapped out for a gratuitously over-stretched subplot involving Jay and his brother that, although helpful, distracts far too much from the real star of the show, Cara and her gradually declining sanity. 

When the much-teased horror elements finally do begin to blend in with the story, Apps really does find her stride, rolling together a beautifully striking use of colour with a seriously patient sense of brutality, embellishing some sort of cheap-o, toned-down Neon Demon vibe. 

It’s not quite complete; narratively things become something of a mess by the climax and Apps fails to truly embrace what she seems to really be aiming for, but this certainly doesn’t tank the film by any means. There’s simply just the potential for more here. 

Fans of the extreme may find themselves a little disappointed with the pay-off to the largely underused psycho-chiller undertones, but those wanting an escape from the usual paint-by-numbers boy-meets-girl drama will likely find it an interesting watch nevertheless. 

And Then I Was French is screening as part of the 2016 East End Film Festival. More information can be found here.

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