Studio: Artsploitation Films
Director: Hans Herbots
Writer: Carl Joos, Mo Hayder
Producer: Peter Bouckaert
Stars: Geert Van Rampelberg, Ina Geerts, Johan van Assche, Laura Verlinden, Dominique Van Malder, Kyan Steverlynck, Roel Swanenberg, Ingrid De Vos, Michael Vergauwen, Circe Lethem, Brit Van Hoof, Tibo Vandenborre
A police inspector haunted by the childhood abduction of his brother becomes obsessed with the disturbing case of a dangerous serial kidnapper.
Despite the passage of 25 years, police inspector Nick Cafmeyer is no less haunted by the abduction of his brother Bjorn than he was as a boy. Longtime suspect Ivan Plettinckx makes sure that a venomous knife is always piercing Nick’s heart by continually leaving taunting letters and pig bone piles on the inspector’s front lawn as part of a perverted game of “you can’t touch me.”
When a series of couples are found imprisoned in their own homes and their children sexually assaulted, an urban legend about a child-eating troll is the first clue pointing towards the perpetrator’s identity. Certain that Ivan Plettinckx is somehow involved, and clinging to a desperate hope that the truth behind his brother’s disappearance might finally be revealed, Nick consumes himself with solving the mystery, only to discover a situation more horrifying than anyone could have imagined.
On paper, Belgian thriller “The Treatment” is not a mold breaker. Only a detective on the eve of retirement is a more clichéd police character than a lone wolf lawman dogged by his past and obsessed with a strangely reflective present-day case. With devices like clues hidden in plain sight and sloppy police work fabricating pauses in plot progression, “The Treatment” sometimes plays like a higher stakes episode of “Without a Trace” bearing moderately elevated production values. Yet even though the story itself does not always remain unassailably strong, the telling of it certainly does.
“The Treatment” captivates through exceptional atmosphere. Combine the rainy gloom of “The Killing” with a “True Detective” thread of emotionally taxing grimness and you have an idea of the heavy mood created. This world is as depressingly oppressive as the terrifying crime residing at its center, with cast and camera putting every pound of that gravity into the audience’s psyche. It is an unsettling feeling of psychological filth certain to affect invested viewers in ways where the movie remains tattooed on the mind’s eye long after its conclusion.
While time is of the essence in capturing the criminal before he can strike again, the runtime doesn’t have the same use for urgency. A muted rhythm accentuates the dour tone, although director Hans Herbots slows down the 125-minute duration more than necessary, often extending sequences through slow motion or by ambling headfirst into dead end moments. “The Treatment” leans heavily on its slow-burn police procedural aspect, featuring plentiful scenes of seated interviews, standing interviews, solemn pondering under overcast skies, and countless instances of the lead detective driving to get the maximum ROI out of the production’s car mount rig rental.
No matter the contrivance of cinematic convenience, Herbots’ superb craftsmanship still supersedes shortcomings just as perfect casting and adroit portrayals transcend a stereotypical roster of red herring suspects and traumatized victims. A “Silence of the Lambs”-ian structure to both script and presentation creates an inescapable attachment to the setting that less careful crime thrillers are unable to deliver with safer, more conventional methods regarding similar setups.
A word of warning is required for those uncomfortable with themes of child abduction and pedophilia. While “The Treatment” is not designed to deliberately titillate in those arenas, kidnapping and rape play key and consistent roles. Moments when Nick reviews an uncovered cache of child pornography in particular are not salaciously exploitive, but such scenes are highly suggestive to the point where discomfort and disgust may mar overall entertainment value for some. Prepare accordingly or avoid entirely depending on disposition.
Were it made in America with a mainstream studio sensibility, “The Treatment” might resemble the type of James Patterson-esque murder movie that dotted multiplexes following the mid-nineties success of “Seven.” But a gut-punch approach towards realism instead grabs the audience at the throat through mesmeric psychological suspense. Far from flawless, “the Treatment” is nonetheless daring and daunting in its darkness while remaining resonating in its impact.
NOTE: The film’s Dutch title is “De Behandeling.”
Review Score: 75