Something happened last year that hasn't happened since The Silence of the Lambs. A thriller came out that's actually thrilling. A suspense movie was made that's actually suspenseful. Les Riviéres Pourpres, or for the unilingual, The Crimson River, is what thrillers everywhere yearn to be: smart, captivating and honestly entertaining.
A college for gifted students, hidden in a mountain valley in France, is the focus of two investigators tracking a highly-motivated serial killer. After a librarian is found mutilated (strung up 150 feet high off a cliff face) legendary cop Pierre Niémans (Jean Reno) is brought to the small university town to help the local bungling cops find the killer. Meanwhile, the newest addition to a nearby village's police force, Lieutenant Max Kerkérian (Vincent Cassel) is investigating a strange graveyard desecration. Of course, the two cases are linked and the two investigators eventually meet up.
Unlike in Seven--the movie Crimson River will be compared to--the killer in this film has a motive for murder aside from the usual insanity. Sure, the killer is crazy--the footage of the tortured victims will make anyone squeamish--but crazy for a reason. Every discovered body is a clue that not only points to the next victim, but to the greater purpose of the crimes. Behind the mutilated bodies is a twisted secret the two investigators need to discover to catch the killer.
The plot is executed beautifully, but isn't the only area of perfection in Crimson River.
The interactions between Nié-mans and Kerkérian are hilarious; they could have been the stereotypical veteran/rookie combination, but Niémans is too aware of his own failings, and Kerkérian too smart and sharp to fall into that trap. In the scene where they first meet, the younger Kerkérian is physically overtaken by Niémans. However, moments later, thanks to his strange fear of dogs, Niémans finds himself dependent on Kerkérian. The characters are actually human.
The cinematography is fantastically disturbing. Close-ups and awkward angles of hacked off limbs and gouged eyes are absolutely gross, but captivating.
Crimson River isn't artsy, though. It may be European, but it's full of slick action. Gun battles, chase scenes and fist fights keep Crimson River from drowning in its own heavy, complicated plot.
And that's the best part of Crimson River. While it is a serial-killer suspense film, it isn't overly dark. Slivers of light-heartedness still sneak through. Because of this, The Crimson River is much more entertaining than most films in the thriller genre.