Therapy starts strong. We follow a trio of teenagers as they show up at a derelict house for a spot of binge drinking and graffiti tagging, but the threesome are unknowingly the star of a super-8 movie and things don’t turn out well. The action jumps to police detectives Jane (Nathalie Couturier) and Simon (Rémy Jobert) as they are called into the same building to investigate some blood splatters. They uncover camera footage and begin watching the tapes hoping to reveal clues as to what happened. The tapes contain the story of Steven (Julien Croquet), Stephanie (Vanessa Azzopardi), Olivia (Luna Belan), Sam (Tania Rieu) and Sebastien (Nathan Ambrosioni), a group whose weekend away in the country takes a dark and deadly turn.
Therapy is a great little horror film directed by Nathan Ambrosioni, the young director who screened Hostile at Frightfest last year. He made his first film at twelve and now has his second movie under his belt, and he’s still in his teens. His young years don’t detract from the scares on display. He expertly crafts tension from the opening frame; a child of the found footage era he’s clearly picked up a thing or two.
In Therapy Ambrosioni shows a visual and auditory maturity way beyond his young years. He somehow manages to create moments of pure terror out of nowhere. One moment all is safe (well as safe as one ever is in a film like this), then the next moment something morphs out of the dark corner right next to them and the viewer is jumping out of their skin.
Ambrosioni’s last film also utilised the found footage device, but this time it’s more elevated. His last film was slow and drawn out. Therapy is much more frantic and intense. This time we also get three, technically four if you include the standard camera, different viewpoints. We get Super-8, hand-held and Go-Pro all achieving varying levels of frights. The Go-Pro is a particular highlight as you are placed directly into the position of Olivia. There’s also a standout shot of Olivia being grabbed during which the viewer feels like they are floating.
The sound design should also be applauded. Each video has a different type of soundtrack. The variety of noises combing with the various point of views to create an atmosphere in which the audience can’t quite settle.
The story is told through a mixture of past tense found footage and third person tense. It’s an interesting idea but disappointingly the dynamic doesn’t quite work. The police tale bookmarks events in the groups journey as they have to wait for footage to be restored. The drip feeding of information gives the viewer too much time to breathe, with some of the tension deflating.
The story itself also suffers towards the end, the final half an hour ventures a little too far into cliche territory. The subtle nod to the identity of the killer is lost when a few minutes later they spell it out completely. It goes so far that we see the killer put their mask on a table in front of a camera. They proceed to put the mask into a bag of weapons and then turn the camera off. Mature audiences don’t need these sorts of things spelling out to them but it must be hard for someone so young to put themselves in the minds of us old folks. These are all forgivable slights and will surely be eradicated as Ambrosioni hones his craft.
Although a visually creative affair full of inventive scares, Therapy unfortunately lags a little towards the end. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic sophomore feature from a promising young horror director.
Therapy screens as part of this 2016’s Fantasia International Film Festival programme.
Find all our of Fantasia 2016 coverage here.