There are few movies like Saturn Bowling. At least few good ones. Saturn Bowling spends its first half with the film’s antagonist, before switching lanes to finally focus on the protagonist as he investigates the horrific crimes committed by the film’s villain. This is by no means a spoiler, as the movie’s antagonist is shady from the start. It’s certainly not the only horror/thriller that puts the film’s antagonist front and center; take American Psycho for instance. Like that film, Saturn Bowling succeeds by relentlessly exploring the dark heart of its antagonist at the forefront, captured in an incredible performance.
The French horror/thriller film is captivating. Its characters are instantly well established, and the plot is disturbingly fascinating. Similarly, the film sports great cinematography and brilliant music that immediately creates a tense, devastating, and downright haunted atmosphere that never eases up. Saturn Bowling is quite a tough watch at times. While it will mostly shy away from showing the worst, the first moment we see our antagonist delve into his urges is one of the most brutal and hard-to-watch scenes the year has to offer. Nonetheless, Saturn Bowling is a fantastic little film that fans of dark serial killer movies will love.
The Brotherly Brutality of Saturn Bowling
Directed by French filmmaker Patricia Mazuy, Saturn Bowling follows Guillaume (Arieh Worthalter), a police office who after the death of his father, inherits the family bowling alley. But instead of taking over it himself, he decides to give the bowling alley to his half-brother Armand (Achille Reggiani). However, this gift is cursed, and sets off a series of violent murders. Both of the brothers find themselves drawn into a demonic abyss and will have to face their tainted heritage. Darkness rules over their world, where the only rules are the rules of the hunt.
Saturn Bowling brilliantly tackles the dark things we inherit from our families, and the idea that the demons of our heritage can be passed down through the generations. Saturn Bowling tackles this in two drastically different avenues. Armand and Guillaume’s father was a hunter. He mercilessly killed animals for sport, and it’s this instinct that is burned so heavily into the two brother’s genetic material in different ways. Armand, plagued with urges to cause pain and suffering, goes down the avenue of hunting prey, or in the film’s case, helpless young women. Paralleled to that is Guillaume, the police officer who instead hunts down criminals. It’s a fascinating dichotomy.
A Tough Watch
Let’s get this out of the way. Saturn Bowling is quite a tough watch, especially during one scene. The film includes scenes of rape, sexual assault, and brutal murder, and puts a focus on poachers and animal hunters. So if you’re not a fan of that stuff, or find topics like this disturbing, Saturn Bowling isn’t for you. One scene in the film sees our antagonist take a girl up to his apartment where they begin to kiss and undress each other. At first, it seems harmless, but due to the silence of the scene, something is not quite right. It isn’t long before Armand begins getting rough, which soon culminates in him relentlessly beating her, until he finally whacks a lamp over the poor girl’s head, killing her instantly.
With all that being said, it’s a fantastically crafted scene. The horrifying sense of dread, vulnerability, and silence create an expertly tense scene that deserves a lot of praise. Audiences will squirm in their seats, as Saturn Bowling doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality unfolding on screen. As tough to watch as this scene is, it does give a horrifying look into the animalistic brutality of the main character and sets the stage.
Likewise, Armand kills many other women in the film, and the film begins to leave more unsettling details up to our imagination and understanding of Armand’s psyche. Director Patricia Mazuy could have shown more, and thankfully didn’t. Saturn Bowling wouldn’t have benefited from it, and it would have been a major flaw in the movie.
A Captivating Familial Dynamic
The main plot of Saturn Bowling is fairly simple, however it’s the dynamics between the two brothers that drive the film to its satisfying destination. The audience is well aware that it is Armand committing these awful crimes, but Guillaume does not, presenting a captivating dynamic between the two. Guillaume searches tirelessly for the killer, when in actual fact he was under his nose all along.
Armand is a terrifying antagonist. Achille Reggiani does a fantastic job as the character; he comes across as a somewhat nice person, but by the 20-minute mark, he becomes instantly detestable. And this is before the brutal aforementioned scene. That being said, it is utterly fascinating seeing Armand’s journey into madness, and his descent into the seemingly hereditary brutality that was passed down from his father. Armand is unhinged, and a wonderful villain.
Uncomfortable Tension Throughout
Another one of Saturn Bowling’s graces is its uncomfortable tension. From the very first frame, and the instant we meet Armand, Mazuy’s aesthetic choices create an uneasy and uncertain atmosphere that continues throughout. The cinematography is stunning, and opts for longer shots that allow the film to breathe and the atmospheric dread to heighten.
Likewise, the film’s music only enhances how occasionally dreamy and haunting Saturn Bowling can be. The music varies from loud ’80s synths to slower symphonic tracks, and it’s an extremely impressive debut from first-time film composers Wyatt E., Sébastien Landauer, and Stéphane Rondia.
From Dark Star Pictures, Saturn Bowling will be in theaters Sept. 29, and on DVD and digital Oct. 24.