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  • Rev Horror


Dir. Quarxx (2023)

Two men wake up after dying in a car accident. Because of past sins, they must face a descent into Hell.

French cinema, ironically, gives me hope. Despite their nihilistic tendencies and refusal to conform to any kind of positive outlook, French horror is some of the most creative and interesting cinema out there. Pandemonium, the new film from Arrow Video and director Quarxx (which I'm assuming is not his real name), fits perfectly into this neo-philosophical framework created by the French New Wave and its horror counterpart, New French Extremity. It's bizarre and nonsensical at times while being hauntingly nihilistic at others, leaving its audience hopeless (and hopelessly delighted if your taste in film is anything like mine).

Nathan (Hugo Dillon) awakens on a snowy, isolated, and fog-covered road. He has recently perished in a car accident, and he quickly finds a cohort in his journey into the great beyond: Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj), the motorcyclist that he took with him in the accident. After realizing that they're dead, the pair are faced with two doors, one playing beautiful harp music while the other emanates wave after wave of screaming. As both men find themselves doomed to the bad door, Nathan undergoes a descent into Hell, being forced to see the terrible and terrifying experiences of others who have gone before them.

Pandemonium is much more arthouse than a lot of traditional New French Extremity films, and is certainly a lot less gory. It's almost more of a death-focused anthology, telling two separate (and largely irrelevant to the greater plot) stories beyond Nathan's own. The film focuses a lot more on the NFE nihilism aspect, delivering a message of inevitability as almost all humans are doomed by their very nature, though neither Nathan or Daniel are especially undeserving of their fates. Leaning in more to the macabre than the brutal, Pandemonium is equal parts sad and disturbing, especially once it begins telling the two individualized tales that we see through Nathan's eyes.

I'm not going to go into very much of the plot beyond what I've already discussed because it's really difficult to do so with this film. There's almost a magical realism quality to it, a dark fairytale that is at times funny and at others maddening. The film is filled with haunting imagery, with one of the "shorts" telling a story of an extremely disturbed little girl and her imaginary(?) friend while the other is about a mother who regrets not being there for her daughter. Both are incredibly effective, though they have very little do to with the overall narrative of the film. They're also both exceptionally well-shot, and Pandemonium as a whole is a very competently made film.

All that said, it takes a different kind of film fan to really appreciate this movie. The vast majority of horror fans, and movie lovers in general, will not enjoy this one, though that's hardly a strike against it. It's a tough watch, testing the abstract understanding as much as it does the ability to follow along when even it doesn't seem to know what it's trying to say. It is also a fantastic film, extremely well done and haunting in its complexity. It's not a fun watch, to be sure, but it is a damn good one. Arrow Video, who is releasing the film on their streaming platform, has long sought the artistic over the watchable, and this film fits perfectly into that oeuvre. Keep an open mind and give it a watch, but don't expect to cheer while you're doing so.

Who this movie is for: Nihilistic film fans, French horror aficionados, Drunk drivers

Bottom line: Pandemonium is an incredibly unique film that is both competently made and difficult to watch for mainstream viewers. It's hard to follow at times, quite a bit of it doesn't have much to do with the rest of it, and it fails to push many boundaries that haven't been pushed before. Nevertheless, it's very well done and contains that trademark nihilism that has become a hallmark of the newer French horror community. If you're a fan of the type of cerebral films that often come out of this genre, I think you'll really enjoy this one. If not, this one will likely be a miss for you.

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