Director: Herve Hadmar
Writer: Herve Hadmar, Marc Herpoux, Sylvie Chanteux
Producer: Christine de Bourbon Busset
Stars: Veerle Baetens, Geraldine Chaplin, Francois Deblock
A woman becomes trapped in a nightmarish netherworld after inheriting a strange house from a dead man she never met.
Lisa has no idea who Andre Bainville is, but she just inherited his mysterious mansion sitting solemnly opposite her apartment. What’s even weirder is Andre Bainville has been dead for 30 years. If not for an odd instruction left with a lawyer to enter his home on a specific date, Andre’s body might never have been found. Lisa (Veerle Baetens, looking like Hilary Swank’s French sister) can’t even begin to comprehend how a man she never met would know that she would live across the street in 2015, much less that she would even exist at all.
Nevertheless, Lisa’s name is on his will. Also on the will is a cryptic Biblical reference and red rectangle drawn beneath Andre’s signature. Lisa doesn’t yet know what mystery she is involved in, though she is already confused by the clues.
Thinking it might provide her some respite from bedwetting nightmares of a drowned girl in a lake, Lisa moves into Andre’s old home. Ignoring the dirty chair he died in, Lisa is drawn to a peeling pattern on the wall. When she seemingly hears a child screaming on the other side, Lisa performs an impromptu sledgehammer remodel and the deeper rabbit hole drop begins.
On the other side of the wall, Lisa loses herself in a labyrinthine underworld of columned corridors and ominous architecture capable of confounding Sarah Winchester. The exit back to reality behind her has disappeared. In front is a threatening man in a boar’s head mask alongside crawling people with oily black skin.
Lisa has somehow stepped into an alternate reality from which there is no apparent escape. Her only hope for survival is another mystery man named Julien, himself trapped in this unreal realm for longer than he can remember. Together the two wayward souls work to uncover the truth behind this side of Andre’s house, hoping to outlast its horrors and find the elusive red door that might finally lead them back home.
A nightmarishly chilling 90-minute mystery movie is tucked tightly inside “Beyond the Walls.” You just have to go through the 140-minute entirety of a sometimes slow three-part mini-series to get there.
Despite how that sounds, labeling “Beyond the Walls” as overlong wouldn’t quite be correct, as a shorter runtime might not be better. Trimming excess exposition and inessential side scenes would result in snappier suspense more appealing to action-anxious audiences. Though compacting its tempo would come with the caveat of cutting a silent character study while sacrificing much of the mood. Lose those two outstanding elements and the film loses its identifying intrigue.
“Beyond the Walls” essentially has a choice of two developmental directions. Spend more time exploring its lore with deeper relationships and there is enough material for a full TV season of haunted house horror. Concentrate on the core while filleting the fluff and thrills instead run straight to the forefront. Like its heroine, “Beyond the Walls” enters an area in between these two ends where it doesn’t fully fit, yet finds a role within this weird world where it isn’t out of place either.
Questions of optimal duration aside, “Beyond the Walls” is a surprisingly compact film with the illusion of enormous scope. There are only three top-billed performers and a few brief support roles that can be counted on one hand. Yet the density in their collective story and its realization through sumptuously sinister production design make the movie appear impossibly bigger than it actually is. It’s a multisensory experience that eerily captures the otherworldliness of an unusually alluring dreamscape and sets it in the center of your psyche.
Imagine the disturbing sickliness of “Silent Hill” meeting the hypnotic gothic romance of “Dark Shadows” with the elegant playhouse presentation of “Masterpiece Theatre.” Other atmosphere-oriented thrillers induce dreaded dullness with sleepwalking sequences of tiptoeing down dark hallways. Here, strange scenery has a personality that is provocative. Quiet characters are mesmeric merely through presence. Even in moments of onscreen inaction, your attention is entranced by the pall settled over each second.
If you end up walking ahead of where the mystery wants you to be, which can be done should you piece together the puzzle before Lisa, “Beyond the Walls” still has surprises in store to stay satisfying, and its execution does not disappoint. For all the minutes used that might not be needed, some could be spent on expanding the Lisa/Julien bond that is critical for the climax. But enough of the emotional intent comes through that the resolution remains haunting. “Beyond the Walls” is a movie whose imagery burns in the dark even after eyes close, with a story that stays swirling long after it ends.
NOTE: The film’s French title is “Au-delà des Murs.”
Review Score: 80