There’s no question that one of the most explored sub-genres of horror filmmaking has been the found footage thriller. From zombies to witches, and everything in between, the idea of using a rough and grainy method of camerawork to tell a story has been done to such an extent that it simply fails to register anywhere close to the neighborhood of scary nowadays. However, the French horror/thriller Therapy looks to change that notion as it emerges as one of the most exciting and dynamic horror films of the year following its premiere at Fantasia Fest. Half slasher movie and half police procedural, there’s no doubt that Therapy will have even the most die hard horror fans jumping and covering their eyes, while remaining glued until the final scene.
In Therapy, five friends (Nathan Ambrosioni, Vanessa Azzopardi, Julien Croquet, Tania Rieu, and Luna Belan) out for a camping trip in the French countryside find themselves being preyed upon and eventually lured into an abandoned mental hospital by a deadly maniac when it’s discovered that a member of their party has gone missing. Days later, detectives Jane (Nathalie Couturier) and Simon (Remy Jobert) try to piece together what has happened to the missing group using the remains of one of the campers’ recovered home movies.
One of the primary reasons Therapy succeeds as much as it does is due to the strength of its horror/thriller aspects. The film doesn’t waste a lot of time building anything up. This is a movie that gets right down to business. I love the tranquility of a serene camping trip that’s interrupted by something unsettling, which spirals quickly into a maddening hell. The movie’s main setting in an abandoned hospital is appropriately chilling, while swaying camera movements greatly add to the terror and suspense. Therapy is one of the rare times where the found footage method actually produces a film full of genuine scares and jumps, most of which are due to the more than effective atmosphere, steep angles, and great sound effects.
By this point in time, films relying on the found footage method have been overplayed so much that audiences have begun to respond with a somewhat hostile nature towards them. Therapy belongs in such a genre for sure, but its twists and surprises are so subtle and effective, it works in ways others don’t. The act of the characters being filmed without knowing is great, while watching the vacationers happily play and joke around with each other is all kinds of excruciating, given that we know some evil is about to befall them. Adding definite electricity to the film is the fact that camera happy camper is played by Ambrosioni, the film’s writer/director, whose on-camera participation elevates Therapy into postmodern territory. It’s almost as if the detectives are his audience and he’s showing them the kind of movie they’re seeing.
While some may scoff at the detective story being a continuous pausing of the main story’s actions, the plotline does help in breaking up the monotony that accompanies most found footage films. If the focus on the detectives seems pointless, watching their anguish build as they try and put the pieces together and deal with their own lives more than eliminates such a fear, with a storyline which proves intriguing in its own right. Watching both Jane and Simon get sucked into the gruesome and bizarre case they are investigating is truly masterful storytelling. The way Ambrosioni uses the storyline to unravel the central mystery lifts the framing device beyond the standard conventions it normally exists in and makes it an essential part of his film.
Ambrosioni, Azzopardi, Croquet, Rieu, and Belan all go above the standard terror-filled performances which tend to populate most horror films. Rather than running around acting scared, the actors genuinely convey torment, despair, anger, determination, and anguish to such extremes as if they were literally living their characters’ insane situation. On the flip side, Jobert and Couturier do brilliant work as the two detectives who find themselves becoming more and more consumed by the baffling case in front of them.
Throughout the majority of Therapy, in between being completely riveted, it was the significance of the film’s title which remained elusive to me. Ultimately I must report that the title itself will only make sense if you stick with the movie until the end, which everyone who begins Therapy must do. The reasons for this are plenty. Every aspect of this film is so utterly compelling and never lets up once; each scene is so magnetic and hypnotic that you can’t look away from what is a genuine puzzle of a film, and even the film’s ending isn’t a safe one by any means. In an age when horror films fail to live up to the genre they claim to belong to, Therapy is a film made by a director who doesn’t just deliver on the thrills and scares, but also offers up a genuine, involving mystery at the heart of it.