5150 Elm's Way (2012)
Directed by Éric Tessier
5150 Elm’s Way (5150 Rue Des Ormes) is a film that slipped under the radar for most horror fans. Directed by Eric Tessier and based on the novel of the same name, it played a few festivals and garnered some acclaim by those who were lucky enough to see it, but it more or less disappeared with little fanfare shortly after its 2009 release. It’s a shame, really, because 5150 Elm’s Way is one of the most creative and well-executed horror films of the past decade.
The film follows Yannick Bérubé, a young amateur filmmaker beginning a two-year stint at university. After accidentally wrecking his bicycle, he seeks the help of Jacques Beaulieu, a family man with a horrible secret. In addition to being an expert at chess, Jacques is also a man of great faith who feels that he must cleanse the world of the unrighteous individuals that roam the streets. After Yannick sees a beaten and bloodied man in an upstairs room, Jacques chains him up, preventing him from leaving and going to the police. After subjecting him to weeks of psychological torture, Jacques challenges Yannick to a game of chess, with a victory ensuring his release. Jacques has never lost a game, but what happens if he does?
As the film progresses, Beaulieu uses chess as a metaphor for his “eternal combat” against the unrighteous; his unbeatable record in numerous chess tournaments is a metaphor for his struggle against those causing harm to the world. He’s never lost a game, and every death he’s caused is righteous and necessary. As Yannick remains locked away, he begins to hallucinate and becomes consumed with the idea of beating Jacques at chess. In this way Tessier opts for subtlety, relying on brief moments of confusion (the room filling with blood) and obsession (filming every chess game he plays and resorting to drawing chess boards all over the room) to highlight Yannick’s growing insanity.
But 5150 Elm’s Way is much more than that. Despite its familiar setup – it calls to mind the British thriller Mum & Dad – it manages to include enough twists and turns to prevent the film from sliding into the realm of cliché. Its clever plot presents an alternate view of morality and righteousness, a subject in horror that’s not often done well; yet, the film handles the material deftly and without feeling forced, namely through its antagonist Jacques.
Curiously enough, at times you might find yourself expressing just the tiniest bit of sympathy for him. He is strict in his devotion, choosing to kill the unrighteous; he doesn’t kill indiscriminately, which is why he refuses to kill or even cause serious physical harm to Yannick unless he’s provoked or attacked himself. On the rare occasion that he lashes out and hurts someone, he punishes himself with pain, an indicator of his extreme devotion to what he considers to be the ultimate good. It’s up to Yannick to make him see just how wrong this extreme devotion is.
By contrast Jacques’ wife, Maude, is devout in her faith, yet unable to see eye to eye with Jacques and his treatment of Yannick. She’s easily shaken in the face of brutality, shielding her young daughter, Anna, from the abuse and only resorting to violence when confronted by Jacques. It’s a relationship controlled primarily by fear, yet a level of fear we never truly get to see. His daughter, Michelle, is eager to learn his ways, despite exhibiting slightly less devout and more violent tendencies. This mix of characters prevents the film from sliding into generic horror film territory; their relationship and struggle to survive as a family with differing viewpoints on how to treat Yannick only serve to add to the tension of the already suspenseful and clever plot, resulting in an unsuspecting and emotional climax.
5150 Elm’s Way is a film that never “phones it in” with its subject matter. Impassioned characters drive a story that is wholly unique in its execution, while simultaneously dealing with religious and moral themes in a way that is tempered by even pacing and subtle condemnation of the more extreme aspects of faith.
4 1/2 out of 5