DIR: Hans Herbots • WRI: Carl Joos • PRO: Peter Bouckaert • ED: Philippe Ravoet • DES: Johan Van Essche • MUS: Kieran Klaassen, Melcher Meirmans, Chrisnanne Wiegel • CAST: Geert Van Rampelberg, Ina Geerts, Johan van Assche
A family is found chained up in their own home. They’ve been there for days but the police arrived too late, the kidnapper managed to get away with their young son while the cops were raiding the house and has escaped into a nearby wood. Nick (Van Rampelberg) is a grizzled old detective. Still being haunted by the abduction of his younger brother while they were kids, this new paedophilia case hits too close to home especially with the man who took Nick’s brother still taunting him with what he did. Nick dives headlong into the case, driven by both his own lingering guilt and the suspicion that the current perpetrator may have links to the man Nick has sought revenge on for decades. As another family is taken, Nick slides ever closer to the edge as each new revelation throws more light on a hidden paedophilia ring that’s operated for years.
While cinema and culture in general are hardly hurting for a lack of crime procedurals, every now and again one comes along that stands out. This is definitely one of those. Not because it does something interesting with genre or even because it has a particularly gripping plot or standout performances. No, in this case The Treatment simply manages to get under your skin and repulse you in a way few if any recent entries in the genre have. This may be due to a wider desensitising by media but it doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the darkest, bleakest, most depressing films so far this year (and this is coming from someone who adored The Voices). Each of the three major characters (plot-wise) in this film are monstrous and that’s including our protagonist and while there is a sense that they were all driven to that by various circumstances, you’ll still leave the cinema thinking that humanity is just inherently awful and wish it would go away.
Now, this is hardly the first film to deal with paedophilia but I personally can’t think of one in recent memory that approached it so coldly and unflinchingly. That’s not to say graphically, mercifully you never see anything but the quick-cuts, the implications of what’s being talked about and just generally the very believable and almost bored, matter-of-fact tone some of the discussions about it take, really leave you intensely unnerved and disturbed by the whole affair. The main killer’s MO only grows more grotesque as the detectives unravel it and while it is disappointing to see yet another film fall into that old cliché of ‘other’-ing the mentally ill, it remains a perpetual hole that writers in the genre can’t seem to avoid stepping into.
Even without all the aforementioned awfulness, as a crime thriller the first half of this film is quite superb. The tone of resigned dread hanging over the film is only made worse by a subtle but unnerving score that complements the overwrought and occasionally nerve-shattering sound design. This is especially true during some of the early, very ‘Slender’ reminiscent, jaunts through a darkened forest with only a slow thumping drumbeat for company. The mythical quality the children ascribe to the killer and very traditionally bogyman-esque way he operates turn the first hour or so into an almost unbearably tense, bordering-on-supernatural horror film.
Sadly, that momentum does falter a bit as it nears the climax. The film is definitely too long and while it certainly holds your attention for the full running time, the film does morph from being a horror to simply being horrifying. The structure is odd and it’s unsurprising to find out that it’s based on a book (and not even the first book in a series), with multiple plot-threads, few of which ever meaningfully overlap, dragging down the pacing as the movie continues. Another minor quibble is that, while the cop-on-the-edge trope is a well-worn one and while the protagonist here has perhaps more motivation and legitimate justification for being as close to the edge as he is than most, the performance does threaten to start chewing the scenery in parts and risks bringing the otherwise well-crafted atmosphere crumbling down with it.
It’s hard to say that it’s a film that you should seek out as, best case scenario, you leave not a very happy camper. However, it is undeniably one of the strongest entries in the genre in a good while. The first half especially is almost as good as any of the best horrors of the year and the story remains loathsomely compelling.
Now, let’s just hope we don’t get a watered-down American remake in a couple of years with Liam Neeson in the lead role. Or even worse, Pierce Brosnan.