Fabrice du Welz has always been quite vocal about wanting to do an Ardennes trilogy, so Adoration didn't come as a very big surprise. After he released Alléluia, it was just a matter of time before the third film in this loosely coupled series would materialize. Fast-forward to 2020 and Adoration is finally in theaters over here. So far I've enjoyed everything du Welz has put out, meaning expectations were considerable, even when I didn't know anything about his latest up front. It's safe to say my expectations were met, just don't expect a carbon copy of his earlier work.
People generally consider du Welz to be a horror director, but it's a bit less straight-forward than that. While his films tend to have a rather dark and grim edge, they are rarely straight up horror flicks. Even a film like The Ordeal has a very dark comedy streak running through it, enough to push most singular genre fans away from his work. Still, most of his films contain clear horror influences, even when they're mixed with other genres. I think that if you really wanted to, you could still make a case for Adoration to be tangentially connected to the horror genre, but I also think you'd be doing the film a disfavor.
Adoration is very hard to pin down. If pushed I'd say the film is somewhat related to François Ozon's Criminal Lovers, maybe it also has a little of Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence in it. Others have compared it to Terence Malick's Badlands, which also makes sense I guess. I wouldn't put any of these forward as a real point of reference though. I think du Welz created something that is very much its own thing, a film that draws from different sources and combines them into something that is both dark and idyllic, sweet and unsettling.
The plot revolves around two young kids who decide to flee from home. Paul lives alone with his mom, next to the mental hospital where she works, Gloria is a fresh patient who he falls madly in love with. The two get along really well, but the hospital isn't too happy with their friendship. They try to keep the two apart, but it just pushes them closer together. When they are caught sneaking around the premises, the situation escalates and Paul and Gloria make a run for it together. Deep within the forests of The Ardennes, they try to survive and make their escape towards a less hostile environment.
Belgium has a couple of great cinematographers and du Welz has always used that to his benefit. His earlier films thrived on the input of Benoît Debie, his later work is graced by the handiwork of Manuel Dacosse, who once again returns for Adoration. The visuals are essential here, as they help to communicate the fickle emotional balance of the central duo. The setting and seasonal atmosphere make the film look quite alluring, at the same time there's a tangible darkness, a sense of dread and unease that rumbles underneath this summery vibe. One never overpowers the others, which is what makes Adoration so special. All that is perfectly reflected in and reinforced by the visuals.
The music too is a perfect extension of this tension between two completely opposite atmosphere. On the one hand the score sounds ethereal and majestic, on the other hand there's this gritty layer of distortion that can break through at any time. Vincent Cahay is du Welz' go-to composer and it's clear that this long-time bond is really paying off. The audiovisual experience feels very strong and coherent, which is something you often get when a talented crew has been working together for a longer period of time.
Adoration isn't just an audiovisual experience though, there's also a strong emotional core to the film. The film tackles the unabashed and uncontrolled love between two teens and for that you need a set of actors who can get that across. Both Thomas Gioria and Fantine Harduin put in perfect performances and carry the film with ease, which is no mean feat. Veteran Benoît Poelvoorde is also present, though in a smaller part. When the three of them are onscreen together, it's really a sight to behold. Fans of du Welz will also be happy to hear Laurent Lucas returns, even though it's just a cameo.
Once the two begin their escape into the wild, the film becomes more and more detached from reality. There are a few chance encounters with other people, but it's mostly just Paul and Gloria surviving away from the civilized world. There are no obvious or overtly fantastical elements, even so it feels like they have entered a different, slightly otherworldly dimension. The film makes this abundantly clear, but you have to be willing to follow du Welz on his trip, leaving behind any practical considerations about police searches, density of occupation and whatnot, as that is sure to break the spell.
Adoration is a film that shows Fabrice du Welz can move between genres without losing his personal signature, which is probably one of the biggest complements you can give a director. It's a film that feels like vintage du Welz, but handles very different topics and incorporates new genre elements. But above all, Adoration is a very impressive film that feels like a complete and unique experience, thriving on sublime cinematography, a perfect score and amazing central performances. The shift away from horror might be a hindrance to its commercial success, but hopefully quality prevails and the right people will end up finding this film.