Sheitan (DVD)

Sheitan DVD review (click to see it bigger!)Starring Vincent Cassel, Oliver Bartelemy, Roxane Mesquida, Nicholas Le Phat Tan

Directed by Kim Capiron

Released by Tartan Films

It’s strange to me to see a company like Tartan getting behind this film for a DVD release, since it’s nothing, and I mean nothing, like any of the films they’ve put out to date. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing; their horizons are expanding outside of the Asian ghost story or occasional arthouse film. Just be sure you don’t go out and scoop up Sheitan if you’re looking for something conventional.

Christmas Eve. Three friends are out at a Paris nightclub with the goal of ingesting many intoxicants and getting laid as quickly and as often as possible. When we meet him, the one character you could call a lead, Bart (Bartelemy), is already in bad shape. It’s clear he’s had way too many of whatever it is he’s taking, so when he gets into a fight over a girl you kind of don’t feel bad for him when he gets a bottle over the head.

Sheitan DVD review (click to see it bigger!)Outside his two friends Thai (Tan) and Ladj (Ladj Ly) and him hook up with a beautiful and mysterious girl named Eve (Mesquida), who says they’re welcome to come back to her place in the country to continue their debauchery. They accept of course, but have no idea what kind of weirdness awaits them when they show up.

Primary among the aforementioned weirdness is the home’s caretaker, Joseph (Cassel), who is a long, long way from his role as the creepy and twisted Jean-Francois de Marangias in Brotherhood of the Wolf, which is what most fans know him from. Here he’s got huge teeth, crazy hair, a Dali mustache and a smile that absolutely will not go away. And this guy is mad, plain and simple.

The first half of the movie is some kind of odd mixture of comedy, with nearly dangerous exploits going on in underground hot springs and the introduction of local town kids who all seem both related and similarly retarded, and classic slasher movie setup. We’re shown glimpses of a woman preparing a creepy doll and saying sinister things to her unborn baby, which serves as some kind of lead up to the very twisted turn the movie makes in it’s last third when it becomes out-and-out horror.

Sheitan DVD review (click to see it bigger!)You see, besides being crazy, Joseph has the added benefit of having stuck a deal with the devil; a deal which requires him to acquire new and interesting body parts, which explains why he’s being so accommodating to the group of horny malcontents who have taken over his home; he especially finds Bart’s eyes of interest…

Despite that horrific sounding synopsis, Sheitan is surprisingly free of blood, though not for any reasons of cost cutting or camera shyness. There’s just not a lot of violence; instead there’s implied tension and a slow build up to the screaming madness that takes over the final act of the movie. It’s really very brilliantly done; too often these days films are made with such a sickening lack of imagination and balls that one begins to wonder what the point of it all is; then something like Sheitan comes along and you see that there are still some filmmakers our there with new and interesting ideas.

Sheitan DVD review (click to see it bigger!)Obviously Cassel does a fantastic job, chewing scenery like a fat guy in an eating contest, but something should be said for the rest of the cast as well, who all turned in top-notch performances with what must have been one of the oddest working environments of their young lives. Bartelemy is especially memorable for his turn as Bart, a disgusting a lecherous club kid lacking a single social grace and believing women are here only to fuck and cook. Of course he sure does get a lot of unwanted attention from Joseph throughout the film, which makes for some of the more uncomfortably funny moments.

Though not brimming with features, Tartan still did a good job with the making-of on this disc, which I can only guess is an imported special feature from the French release. Clocking in at 23 minutes, it’s primarily an interview with Cassel discussing how he got involved with the film (and for those who aren’t aware, Cassel is a huge, Brad Pitt-sized star in his native country, so it’s even cooler to see how excited he was for this movie) and the team who were involved in making it a reality. The impression is given that there exists a whole subculture of filmmakers in France who are going against all conventions of filmmaking, which is more than a little exciting. It’s also great to see such a big name like Cassel understand and support these kinds of concepts and ideas with so much gusto. It’s definitely worth a watch when you finish the movie, I would recommend immediately afterwards, actually, just so you can see what went into making Sheitan so very twisted.

If this is the direction Tartan is going with their acquisitions all I can say is keep it up. It would be nice to see some more features on these discs, especially incredibly odd films like this one which I’m sure have a ton of interesting stories to tell, but for now I’m just glad someone is getting this out US audiences so we can all bask in it’s abnormal brilliance.

Special Features:
The Making of Shietan
Tartan trailers


4 1/2 out of 5


2 1/2 out of 5

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Johnny Butane