Disorder (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Disorder (aka Maryland)

Dir. Alice Winocour, France/Belgium, 2015, 98 mins, in French with subtitles

Cast:  Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger

In this psychological thriller Matthias Schoenaerts plays Vincent, a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who is hired by a wealthy Lebanese businessman to protect his wife Jessie (Kruger) and small son (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant) while he is away on business. When a kidnap attempt is made on the family and the police seem uninterested, Vincent becomes convinced that someone is trying to invade the house and kill the family. But how real is the threat and how much of it is created by Vincent’s paranoia?

One of the interesting things about this film is that all the members of the main production team apart from director Alice Winocour’s co-writer are women. Ms Winocour certainly demonstrates that she can both create tension and direct an exciting action sequence.  The kidnap scene and the invasion of the house are nail biting. 

The meat of the film though is Vincent and his state of mind. The film establishes this early on when he visits his doctor and then former comrades, now in a disability centre and scrounges medication from them.  Come the kidnap attempt, we at first think Vincent is imagining the family is in danger.  The scene then explodes into terrifying, fast-moving and very realistic action.   There is also the element of the growing attraction between Vincent and Jessica, which is always unspoken.  Their first meeting at a swanky party where Vincent is on security duty, is a scene where costume is interestingly used to establish their future relationship immediately through Kruger’s dress – excessively modest from the front, daringly sexy from behind. Winocour has also filmed Schoenaerts in what she has described as “like men film women, like an object of desire”, in this case a finely honed body covered in tattoos.

Schoenaerts gives an intense, powerfully physical and emotional performance as a man whose finely honed instincts for threat are those of an animal in the jungle, while Kruger as the trophy wife gives good support as a woman torn between fear of and attraction to her unpredictable bodyguard, although as we are seeing her purely from Vincent’s point of view, there is a certain lack of conviction to the character and her choices.   

There is also an effective and unsettling music soundtrack which helps to wind up the tension, as does the setting – the luxurious and rambling French Riviera mansion in which the characters are virtually trapped.

The problem comes with the resolution of the film, as we look back over what we have seen and try to discern how much of it was real, how much of it was in Vincent’s paranoid imagination.  So is Jessie’s husband really an arms dealer as Vincent suspects?   Are the signs of a burglary when they return to the house after the kidnap attempt and which Jessica appears to ignore also in his imagination?   How real is the invasion of the house?   Unanswered questions.  It’s a difficult one to pull off, telling your audience you’ve been deceiving them in what they’ve just seen.   “Sixth Sense” did it successfully.  So did “Jacob’s Ladder” and last year’s black comedy “The Voices”.   But it’s a tricky challenge. 

This is a brave attempt to tell a story from inside the protaganist’s head.   The action thriller aspect of this film is very effective but despite the performances it is ultimately somewhat unsatisfying.

Review by Carol Allen