Grou's film is a little difficult to categorize. Of course marketing people will likely tag it to the Francophone horror movement or try to sell it off as a Saw one-up (oh please, really?), but there's more to Grou's film than those meager comparisons seem to suggest. Les 7 Jours du Talion manages to put forward a different kind of horror, one that feels somewhat refreshing, though I'm quite certain that's not the best word to use in this context.
There are many ways to shock an audience. You can go for scares, launching loud noises and sudden appearances. Or full-frontal gore, spilling guts and blood left and right. Maybe some supernatural injections to make it more mysterious. Grou walks a different path, combining physical and mental pain to a gut-wrenching cocktail of torture and depression. Les 7 Jours du Talion is not a pleasant ride, so be prepared. Just don't expect too much physical horror, Grou is more interested in the emotional variations.
The film starts with the kidnapping, rape and murder of a little girl. This all happens off-screen, but the aftermath leaves little to the imagination. As a respectable horror fan I've seen quite a few corpses but the work they did here is simply astounding. I don't think I've ever seen a dead body this realistic. From there on the film focuses on the parents of the girl and the guilt trip they are going through, leading up to the main events of the film.
The father snaps and goes out to kidnap the murderer of his daughter. His plan is to torture him for seven days, then kill him on his late daughter's birthday. This is were the more traditional horror elements come into place, but Grou keeps a very strong dramatic undercurrent running beneath his film. While there is some graphic torture, it's as far removed from typical torture porn flicks as you can imagine.
Grou applies a very direct and bold visual style. No realistic-looking, shaky camera work but well-planned, fluid camera motions. This is coupled to a very clinical and cold color palette, giving the film a very harsh and emotion-ridden look. It's all stylishly executed and consistently applied throughout the entire film, leaving very little to warm yourself. Even the setting seems cold and lifeless.
This clinical feel is only heightened by the soundtrack, or better said, lack of soundtrack. Grou takes it even one step further by eliminating all sounds during some scenes, especially during scene transitions. Taking away all sound is a clever way to create and enhance a dramatic impact, which is used to great effect here. I absolutely love the way the sound design helps to set the mood of the film.
The acting is strong and lively. The characters are going through some rough times so it's not that hard to throw emotions all across the room, but the actors handle it well, keeping it realistic and most importantly, painful. While the acting is not all that important for most horror films, the dramatic undercurrent in 7 Jours du Talion demands better of its actors and luckily they deliver. If not, it would've turned cheap very quickly.
Once past the halfway point Grou makes a couple of dubious decisions though, introducing some unneeded characters and leaving other relationships a little underdeveloped, even straying away a little from the main topic and focusing a little too much on the police hunt for the father. But these are just minor points as the film remains stylistically consistent, keeping the cold atmosphere firmly in its grasp. But if you really demand a solid story from a film, you might be somewhat disappointed by the middle part.
Luckily Grou takes revenge with a strong and impressive final scene, resulting in another great, albeit somewhat different, horror film. Grou puts in a simple but thoughtful morale that neither justifies nor condones the father's actions, which really struck me and helped to end the film on a positive note. If you look at the final events the ending might not be all that interesting, but the power really lies in those two final questions and their respective answers.
Les 7 Jour du Talion is another great entry in the Francophone wave of modern horror films. It takes a different approach, mixing serious drama with stylish yet painful torture, delivering a film that has the power to hit its audience head-on and leaving a mark when the end credits start to roll. The subject matter is relevant, the message interesting and the execution upholds a level of much-needed dignity. Good stuff in other words.