DRAMA; 1hr 38min
STARRING: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel
Paterfamilias: Cassal (left) and Chabriel
In a cobbled-together, locked-down community — part workshop, part ramshackle group housing, part one-off primary school — young children are trained from birth as gun-slinging killers by their expansive patriarch, Gregori (Cassel, perversely charming). Angelic 11-year-old Alexander (Chabriel) is the star pupil and the apple of his father figure’s beady eye. The entire home-front vibe is quasi-familial, in fact, with chooks, karaoke nights, a veggie garden and placid, hive-minded single mothers in thrall to their all-knowing, Fagin-esque leader. But as in any cult, especially one geared towards judgmental death, the iron-fisted subtext is necessarily chilling.
Shot in Eastern Europe and a desolate Melbourne, director Ariel Kleiman’s atmospheric and oblique feature debut is pieced together in episodic angles, their inky picture dominated by Gregori’s messianic conviction. “Without rules, we will become like them,” he tells his credulous flock, for whom the concept of salvation is a double-edged contradiction in terms. The flesh-crawling denouement, when Alexander rises up against Gregori’s drastically closed world, is as dismaying as a slap.