Film: 5150 Elm's Way
UK Release date: Out now
Director: Eric Tessier
Starring: Marc-Andre Grondin, Normand D'Amour, Sonia Vachon, Mylene St.Sauveur
Reviewer: Adam Wing
A French language Canadian horror movie set at the end of a quiet street in a small town - a street that just so happens to have the word ‘Elm’ in the title. Alarm bells should be ringing already for Yannick (Marc-André Grondin), an intelligent teenager who stumbles upon the Beaulieu residence after a biking accident. Jacques (Normand D’Amour) insists that Yannick has knocked at the wrong house, but nothing can prepare him for the terror that waits behind door 5150.
Jacques is a psychopath and a fanatic, determined to rid the world of evil. His wife Maude (Sonia Vachon) has long put up with his physical abuse, but stays with her murderous husband to ensure the security of their youngest daughter Anne (Élodie Larivière), a tormented child suffering since birth from severe mental illness. Oldest daughter Michelle (Mylène St-Sauveur) is following in her fathers footsteps, hoping to take over the family business one day, but how can you understand the mind of a psychopath, even if he is your father?
Horrific beatings follow, with a sideline in torture and torment - that is until Jacques offers Yannick a chance at redemption. Yannick becomes a pawn in the deadliest game of chess - one victory and he’s free to go. Sounds so straightforward, doesn’t it? What follows is both shocking and surprising, with 5150 Elms Way joining a long list of hidden gems shimmering in the golden glow of world cinema.
Performances are strong throughout, with well-written characters and emotional depth. Elms Way starts life as a horror movie, but the second act finds it moving towards slow-burning drama, with characters taking centre stage over harrowing brutality. Maude is emotionally conflicted but Michelle has a penchant for violence. Jacques is torn between the love of his daughter and the realisation that she doesn’t quite get it, and Yannick knows full well that he’s caught in the middle.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and you have to admire the actors for making it work so effectively, overlooking the occasional inconsistency is made so much easier when you have well-drawn drama to fall back on. In fact, it’s rare in this day and age to discover a horror movie that doesn’t depend upon gut-wrenching violence and dumb teen fodder. Most French language horror films are well versed in the red stuff, and even though Elms Way has its fair share of claret and blues, it never feels like you’re watching a film that depends upon it.
Eric Tessier’s undiscovered gem was released in the same year as Pontypool, another unexpected Canadian crowd pleaser - the much talked about zombie virus thriller set in a small Ontario town. Pontypool has made something of a name for itself, and 5150 Elms way deserves the same fate. Horror fanatics will be pleased to learn that it rediscovers its roots in the final act - with a turn of events that are almost inspired - and the extra dramatic depth gives Elms Way the weight it needs to pull through. One of the character arcs lacks closure, but for the most part 5150 Elms Way doesn’t make a wrong move.
Slow burning, dark and disturbing, with a wickedly sinister final act, 5150 Elms Way deserves to find a wider audience on these shores. Horror movies rarely put character first, but Eric Tessier knows that true terror comes from within, and you’re sure to have problems forgetting Jacques Beaulieu as the final piece is placed. Checkmate indeed.