Though Belgian genre cinema has been doing pretty well for itself these past two decades, it still lacks consistency. Fabrice du Welz is one of the few directors who has managed to release films at a relatively steady pace while building up his signature brand. Inexorable is his latest feature, another Ardennes-based thriller that finds itself leaning into its genre roots a tad more compared to his earlier work. This may disappoint some of his longtime fans, especially those who prefer his crazier side, but if this film proves anything, it's that du Welz doesn't need the crazy to deliver a tense thriller.
For the past two decades, du Welz has been happily and purposefully exploring the thriller genre. Sometimes there's a touch of horror, or a dash of dark comedy present, other films have more arthouse-leaning sensibilities. But at their core, you'll always find a thick layer of suspense, fueled by one or more thoroughly obsessed characters. Inexorable seems to be a distilled version of du Welz's previous films, with all the excess and frills removed, leaving behind a lean and mean genre film. It's maybe not the most exciting premise, but it's no doubt been one of the heftier challenges for the director so far.
That doesn't mean you won't find any of du Welz's signature elements here, on the contrary. The film is set in the Ardennes, which has been his playground from the very start. Some familiar actors return, Manu Dacosse is there once again to handle the cinematography, and dedicated fans are sure to recognize some references and in-jokes from his earlier work. It's these smaller things that make you feel immediately at home in the du Welz-verse. The more adventurous cinephile will no doubt find stronger connections between the various films, personally, I think du Welz is mostly interested in offering little winks and nudges than actual solid connections.
The plot revolves around Gloria, a young girl who returns to the neighborhood where she grew up. She spent a lot of her younger years moving between foster families, after both her parents were killed in an accident. After settling down in a nearby hotel, she sets her eyes on a large estate, where a famous writer lives with his family. Gloria pays them a visit and hits it off with the daughter of the family. She quickly makes herself indispensable, but when they ask her to move in with them, it's abundantly clear to the audience that Gloria had ulterior motives for returning to her hometown.
With Manu Dacosse handling the cinematography, you're pretty much guaranteed a stylish-looking film, and Inexorable doesn't disappoint. It's not quite as outspoken as Debie's collaborations with du Welz, but Dacosse makes excellent use of the estate and its surroundings to create a vibe that equally screams idyllic and menace. The camera work is delicate, the use of color exemplary, and the editing sharp. A couple of scenes managed to burn themselves on my retina, which is more than I could realistically expect from a core thriller.
The soundtrack offers a mix of familiar classical music, dark and distorted ambient, and one functional metal track. I was a little disappointed by the latter, as metal isn't quite as "shocking" or socially unaccepted as it was three/four decades ago, but I guess it might still work for part of the audience. The soundtrack is pretty solid, well-integrated, and stylish when it needs to be, but it doesn't really stand out. Again, this is quite in line with the premise that du Welz is going for a more straightforward thriller vibe, but I do feel that he could've pushed it just a little further.
It's great to see Benoît Poelvoorde take on the lead here, after featuring in an extended secondary role in Adoration. Poelvoorde is by far Belgium's biggest acting talent and someone who can bring something unique to a character just by being his good old self. It makes it all the more impressive that Beluggi can easily hold her own next to Poelvoorde. When the two are together in the same scene, sparks fly. It's also nice to see Jackie Berroyer make a quick return, and hopefully, Sam Louwyck's short cameo prefaces a bigger part in one of du Welz's future projects.
What I liked best about Inexorable is the way Gloria's intentions are never hidden or concealed. It's clear from the start that she is up to no good, forcing du Welz to draw tension and mystery from elsewhere. Her motivations on the other hand remain somewhat vague, even though hints are dropped quite regularly. It's mostly left to the audience to glue them all together, so don't expect any big or elaborate reveals at the end. Ultimately, Inexorable is a film that relies heavily on mood and atmosphere to pull people in, and that's how I like my thrillers best.
It's great to see du Welz finally settling into a rhythm. Inexorable is not his most notable or memorable film, but it is quality filmmaking that might just be the ideal introduction to his work for people who prefer more straightforward genre films while keeping longtime fans happy until his next release. The plot is kept pretty basic, but the performances are superb, the cinematography is polished and the score is on point, resulting in prime edge-of-your-seat cinema. It'll be interesting to see where Du Welz will go from here, one thing is certain though: I'll be there to see it.