The 00s were an amazing decade for European horror cinema, with the second part of the decade being a particularly fruitful period. Kim Chapiron's Satan [Sheitan] was one of the films that got a nice little boost from all the hype surrounding the genre. As part of the New French Extremity wave though, it had to deal with some very tough competition and it never really managed to go beyond attaining a respectable cult status. It's been a long time since I last watched the film, so I figured it was time to give it another run for its money and see if it was good enough to survive the initial hype.
Satan is part of the European hillbilly horror niche. Admittedly it's not the most popular of niches, still it has some prime representation (just think Du Welz' The Ordeal or Gens' Frontier(s)). Chapiron chases that same brand of dark comedy, bringing together creeps, inbreds and their shady pagan rituals with a small cast of teens pruned to be slaughtered. The setup isn't anything original, then again films like these hinge on their execution. It is after all core genre fare, a film made with a very particular audience in mind.
Chapiron carefully sticks to the rules of the game, but messes about in the margins. Compared to his peers he works with a more varied cast and introduces a hip-hop vibe that's not all too common. It's not at all detrimental to the success of the film of course, but it does add a little flavor of its own, which helps to set it apart from similar films. Usually the teens in these films are quite dull and boring, Sheitan on the other hand brings together of group of pleasantly annoying little pricks that function as ideal fodder for the locals.
The story is basic as can be. Some teens are hanging out in a club, where they run into a girl from out of town. She asks them to escort her back to her country house and horny as they are, they're quick to oblige. When they arrive at the house the gang is introduced to Joseph, the strange but convivial keeper of the premise. He takes the kids out for a little swim in the hot spring, where they have a first rough encounter with some local teens. Meanwhile, preparations are made back at the house, as Joseph's wife is readying herself to complete a somewhat unique pregnancy.
On a visual level Chapiron has everything under control. The camera work is vibrant and energetic, the setting feels appropriately desolate and the appearance of the characters (the locals in particular) is entirely on point. The house itself is also very atmospheric and Chapiron makes excellent use of it. Apart from that Satan doesn't really look too out of the ordinary. If you're familiar with modern horror cinema, you'll pretty much know what tot expect, but that's hardly a negative.
The score is a little more unusual, as mentioned earlier. Some French hip-hop songs lend the film a slightly different vibe and even though it's not overly present (mostly during the club scenes and car rides), it's deviant enough to leave a lasting impression. The rest of the soundtrack is less notable, but since the film aims to be a balanced mix of horror and dark comedy the soundtrack is probably one of the lesser important elements of the film. It's sufficient and that's all it needs to be.
What a film like this needs is a deliciously evil bad guy and a bunch of annoying teens that will walk right into his trap, and that's exactly what Satan has on offer. Vincent Cassel steals the show as Joseph, taking this well over the top without compromising the darker side of his character. The youngsters are irritating, but in a very convincing and satisfying way, whereas the locals are just as weird and depraved as you'd hope them to be. There's nothing amazing or lasting in the way of performances, but the casting is more than solid.
Satan isn't a very long or elaborate film, even so it does take a while to get going. The intro is a bit long-winded, whereas the finale is over too quickly. It isn't until the kids arrive in the remote town that the level of awkwardness reaches appropriate heights, even then it takes a while before the actual killing starts. What follows is a very amusing and effective reveal, but that is pretty much the end of the film already. In this horror niche, less is rarely more and I'm sure that Satan could've used a few more graphic scenes to pad the ending.
Like many before him, Chapiron launched his career with a core genre film, building on top of established genre elements and adding his own unique flavor to make a name for himself. Satan is pure genre material, so if you're not a fan of this particular horror niche it will do little to convince you otherwise. If on the other hand you appreciate the inbred weirdness that lies at the heart of this film, then there's plenty to enjoy here. Satan is fiendishly amusing, darkly funny and pleasantly sadistic. Chapiron has the technical chops, makes the film his own and delivers a neat package that has kept its appeal throughout the years. Recommended viewing for horror aficionados.