It would seem that the protagonist (Karim Leklou) of Stéphan Castang’s feature debut (scripted by Mathieu Naert) is rather like Romeo…, John Tucker…, The Beast…, Babysitter…, Suicide Girls…, Stupid Teenagers…, Horny Teenagers…, Nerdy Prudes…, Surf Nazis…, All Strippers…, All Superheroes…, All Critics… and indeed Everyone… before him, in that, at least according to the film’s title, Vincent Must Die (Vincent doit mourir). Of course, this is true of us all, given that mortality is part of the human condition – but the imperative of Vincent’s death, far from being the merely gradual unwinding of his biological clock, is something far more urgent and imminent. Danger – of a damaging, deadly kind – is all around.
“Do you ever feel like everyone’s out to get you?”, Vincent will be asked by Margaux Lamy (Vimala Pons), a diner waitress working near the cottage where our hangdog hero has sought refuge. Vincent really does feel this way, although not because he is neurotic, jumpy or paranoid, but because people really do keep attacking him without provocation. We first meet graphic designer Vincent in not one but two spaces associated with modern microaggression – in his office workplace, and on his computer. There he is attacked first by an intern (Ulysse Genevrey) he has only just met, who repeatedly smashes a keyboard into his face, and then by an accountant (Emmanuel Vérité) who viciously stabs his wrist with a pen. Soon strangers in the street and even normally friendly neighbours are no longer themselves and turn on Vincent who, in fear for his life, flees to the relative isolation of the country house owned by his father (François Chattot).
A chance meeting with the dishevelled Joachim DB (Michaël Perez) – not his real name – makes Vincent realise that he is not alone in his arbitrary victimhood, and that others like him are forming their own secret communities to protect themselves and fight back. Meanwhile the very fact that Margaux does not attack Vincent at first sight, and that she has her own pursuers, makes the two of them feel a strange connection, even if their nascent relationship is plagued by its own switching violence. This requires that they use handcuffs and blindfolds – paraphernalia associated with BDSM – to negotiate the boundaries of their personal safety and to rebalance the power dynamic between them.
Vincent Must Die plays out a little like the run of post-9/11 zombie films in the early Noughties – think Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… (2002) and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) – in which parties infected with a ‘rage’ virus mete out horrific aggression upon anyone whom they encounter, to deadly effect – except that here, the anger is more specifically targeted, at least at first, on only a few individuals, and recovery is swift, leaving those affected confused and unable to remember what they have done. One sequence shot in a rural traffic jam specifically evokes Jean-Luc Godard’s apocalyptic Week-end (1967) as it captures society blindly headed towards its own terminal breakdown. Meanwhile, as in George A. Romero’s The Crazies (1973), it becomes hard, amid all this unhinged behaviour where violence readily begets more violence, to distinguish those who have been possessed with this unnatural hostility from those who have not – indeed, their rôles can readily, if inexplicably, reverse.
In a manner which will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time online, irrational antipathies emerge without warning, lynch mobs form, and even friends and lovers can lash out against each other in the regrettable thrill of the moment. Amid all this bloodlust, Vincent and Margaux may never get to the bottom of what is going on, i.e. to the monstrous heart of modern humanity – but in a world increasingly ruled by anger, kneejerk violence and meaningless (self-)destruction, perhaps the best we can hope for is to settle for escapist accommodations together, and perhaps for something better downstream, even if, as Vincent ominously suggests, “It’s the same everywhere.”
strap: Stéphan Castang’s genre-fied, apocalyptic feature debut captures modernity’s individual aggressions and mob mentality
© Anton Bitel