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Vinyan (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/7/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/16/2009

Here's a question for you -- What is the definition of a horror movie? Does it have to contain a monster? Does something supernatural have to happen? Must it feature blood and gore? (I'm always surprised by how many people lump all horror films into the latter category.) In theory, a horror movie should contain something which is frightening. And, in order to play to a wide audience, those scary themes should be something universal. Vinyan certainly offers a story which features ideas which will be if nothing else, unsettling to most, but is it a horror movie? And better yet, is it worth watching?

Vinyan opens in Thailand, where we meet couple Paul (Rufus Sewell) and Jeanne Belhmer (Emmanuelle Beart). We learn that six months ago, their young son was swept away by wave created by a tsunami. Since that time, they've both had a hard time dealing with loss. They attend a benefit for an organization who helps refugee children, and while watching a video presented by the group, Jeanne becomes convinced that one of the children is her son. (The child is walking away from the camera.) She learns that known mafioso Thaksin Gao (Petch Osathanugrah) can provide safe passage to Burma, where the video was shot. With Paul scrambling to keep up, Jeanne searches the seedy streets until she finds someone who can lead her to Gao. Soon, Paul and Jeanne find themselves on a rickety boat heading upriver to Burma. They soon learn that human life holds little value in this part of the world and that dark secrets lie in the ancient jungles.

Let me start by saying that the DVD box for Vinyan certainly makes it sound like a horror movie. The front cover is reminiscent of an Italian jungle-cannibal film from the 80s. The quote on the back of the box, "When someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused & angry. It becomes...Vinyan.", sounds like the tagline from a film from The Grudge series. An examination of the plot reveals ideas that are most definitely disturbing. For a parent, the loss of a child is the worst thing imaginable. And then, to think that they might be alive introduces torturous thoughts. The film shows the lengths that a parent will go to to learn the fate of their offspring. Even scarier, Vinyan follows the trend of movies which play on the "stranger in a strange land" anxieties. Paul and Jeanne find themselves knee-deep in a culture where they don't speak the language and they aren't prepared for the barbarism they will encounter.

For all of their good ideas, someone should have reminded Director Fabrice Du Welz and his co-writers Oliver Blakcburn and David Greig like movies where something actually happens. Vinyan opens with its rock-solid premise, which is reminiscent of the classic Don't Look Now, and then it goes nowhere. We follow Jeanne and Paul through the grimy streets for seems like 30 minutes. Then, they board the boat and travel upriver in a journey which feels like it's taking place in real time. During these scenes, there is a lot of talking and arguing, but little really happens. Paul becomes more skeptical, while Jeanne becomes more obsessed, while the audience is bored to tears. This may be the longest 96 minute movie ever made, as scenes does go on and on with nothing happening. Didn't the cast sense this while they were shooting these static moments? The third act of the film becomes a different movie all together, but it's still not very interesting. The finale is meant to be shocking, but we are just glad that the movie is over.

Excruciating boredom aside, you hate to see a movie waste positive elements. Sewell and Beart are both good actors and the Thailand locations could have easily accented a worthy script. Instead, we get a blurred view of Bangkok nightlife and then a tedious boatride where the background always looks the same. The box tells us that the word "vinyan" means restless ghost but to us it means "boring!".

Vinyan travels upstream on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, but it's also noticeably grainy at times. There are no defects from the source material. The colors are good, most notably the constant green background, but the image is somewhat dark at times. I also noticed some shimmering artifacts at times. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, most notably in the jungle scenes. The trek through the nighttime city streets provide a throbbing bass soundtrack which really gives the subwoofer something to think about. The exterior scenes also provide nice surround sound effects which help to elevate a sense of place in the film.

The Vinyan DVD contains only one extra, "Vinyan: The Making of - Featurette" (50 minutes). This very detailed piece follows the production starting with a blessing in Bangkok. Comprised mostly of on-set footage, we see many of the key scenes were shot. We get occasional comments from the cast and filmmakers, some of whom speak in their native tongues. (The yellow subtitles are easy to read.)

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long