Once upon a time (as in, the late 80s and well into the 90s) the big screen (erotic) thriller had its heyday. People slept with each other with (reckless) abandon, no one was who they seemed beyond their attractive surface, women spoke in deep, guttural tones even when they were not seconds from orgasm (and murder), and (delicious, clear) mistakes were made left right and center. It is a genre that is sadly on pause now, and I say sadly, because movies like Body Heat or Sea of Love or The Big Easy are still some of the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre (or in front of a VCR). Even lesser variations of it (the Guttenberg fronted Bedroom Window or the Rob Lowe/James Spader combo pack in Bad Influence, both coincidentally helmed by a pre-LA Confidential Curtis Hanson) were twisty and sweaty fun.
In the 2000s people got scared of all that sex (and maybe, just maybe even overdosed on Ellen Barkin’s voice) and this particular type of film went away along with the Video Stores that housed the VHS tapes these movies lived on. In recent years, only Side Effects (sort of) filled the gap this side of the Atlantic, but the Europeans have been trying to keep the dream alive: Headhunters, Love Crime etc were all noble and satisfying efforts, though not being churned out with the needed frequency, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.
So, my personal hopes were pretty high when it came to The Blue Room, actor-turned-director’s Matthieu Almaric’s adaptation of Georges Simenon’s novella of the same name. Simenon who to France is what Hammett is to America, is an expert in the kind of loose (yet purposeful) characterization that keeps you open to accepting just about anything that happens to anyone in any of his stories. This is very fertile ground for some classic erotic thrillering. And when The Blue Room opens with a man, and a woman in a room, in the kind of post-coital glow only illicit affairs have on one’s complexion, and she asks: “If I were suddenly free, could you free yourself too?”, the viewer may almost lick its lips in gleeful anticipation.
But the film only (sort of) delivers. Before you know it the man in question (Julien, played by Almaric himself) is being questioned about the effects this affair had on both his already strained marriage (to a sweet blonde, the natural opposite of the sultry brunnette we first meet him with) and some as-yet unspecified crime he’s been brought in for. The plotline moves non-linearly somehow resulting in tension to rise unevenly and the slimness of the original material is evident in the loose ends it leaves open within the movie’s structure.
The whole experience would feel well done but merely adequate if it wasn’t for Gregoire Hetzel’s almost epically unsettling score (which, for fans of movie music, may even recall at times the glory of Jarre’s work Eyes Without a Face at times) and the great work Almaric’s director of photography Christophe Beaucarne does, constricted to (inevitably lightly claustrophobic) Academy formatting, punching through the frames with both the titular blue and a jarring red which pops up incriminatingly throughout. Both of those factors elevate the experience beyond the basic mechanics of the tale unfolding beyond us. It makes you wish these men were given something truly juicy to build their atmosphere around.
In summation: We’ve seen better, but for thriller fans among us, still a welcome treat this Fall.
BONUS: We have two duration-of-showing passes to THE BLUE ROOM @ West End Cinema to give away. To enter to win, tell us which crime/mystery/thriller novel/story you’d love to see turned to a film. We’ll notify the winners by Sunday. Cool? Cool.