By Trylon volunteer Dave Berglund
There is a sense in which Diabolique feels built for modern audiences. It is a film that has aged well in many respects – its verisimilitude is high, its performances are understated, and its suspense is taut. There is not an ounce of Hollywood camp here, though it would not feel out of place with the film’s many times implausible plotting. Thematically, it is perhaps more relevant in our contemporary western social context than when it first screened. The film benefits greatly from an increased awareness and vigilance about gender inequalities.
Indeed, the film’s exposition feels as if it has such a modern audience in mind, giving us oppressed women supporting one another in the pursuit of justice against the horrid man who has jointly abused them. It does not matter that the means by which they seek justice is murderous – what matters is that this guy is going to get what is coming to him. These are not femme fatales seeking to ruin a good man, but damaged women teaming up to right the world.
Which makes the whole film, including its sucker-punch conclusion, a wrenching experience. Audiences today applaud Hollywood’s promiscuous teenagers being slashed by inhuman villains, but here, we desire a clean getaway and identify with the film’s schemers. Well, maybe we don’t want a wholly clean getaway, but one that preserves justice in any case. What we are given, however, is a Job-like study in existential confusion – why can’t justice ever win?
Which, in the end, is what makes this film special. It sticks with you, as it dangles a prize just out of reach and leaves you grasping. It is a rather nasty trick, really, but you have to give credit where it is due. This is a smart piece of filmmaking which thrives equally on our instincts for survival and justice, and builds complex structures to give us neither. This is not a film of cheap thrills, but one that evokes deep desire and plays it like a fiddle. It is a film that doesn’t allow you to dismiss or forget it, but equally leaves you speechless. Like only the best thrillers can do, it evokes a simple, “Whoa,” and nothing more. — Dave Berglund
Diabolique screens Monday and Tuesday, October 20 and 21 at 7:00 and 9:15 at the Trylon. You can purchase advance tickets here.