Pierre seems like any other person; he is a middle-aged man who works various jobs that he gets through a temp agency while he takes care of his catatonic father at his family’s home. What separates Pierre from everyone else is that at night, he stalks and abducts people at random to take them back to his home.
“Cruel” was generating some good buzz around the Fantasia International Film Festival due to being touted as the next “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”. It’s hard to say if that’s a justified claim but Eric Cherrière’s feature film debut is a great entry into the serial killer sub-genre. Perhaps because it’s because of Eric’s experience as a novelist specializing in crime-fiction, he was able to create a captivating character study that delves into the mind of a psychopath.
Pierre is a quiet loner who works meaningless jobs while he cares for his catatonic father. Having lived the majority of his life alone, Pierre attempts to fill the void through the act of killing. Following a strict set of rules, Pierre is able to carry out his crimes without getting caught or even raising suspicion. Soon though, he finds himself burden with the same empty feelings he had before and becomes reckless by his desire to be noticed, even if it means being caught by the police. That is until Laure comes into his life. Soon Pierre finds himself torn between the life of a psychopathic killer who’s now being chased by the police and the life he has always dreamed of having.
After the years spent going through films for Film Bizarro, I’ve come to have a great fondness for character pieces. They can be some of the most compelling and engaging films because it’s about establishing a connection between the viewer and the character, and not so much viewer and environment. Eric Cherrière’s “Cruel” might be one of the most well written character focused pieces that I’ve seen this year.
A problem I’ve come to have with horror movies and certain crime-thrillers dealing with serial killers is that, lately, it seems as though the writers and/or filmmakers want me to sympathize with the killers. “The Devil’s Rejects” being a prime example of just how obnoxious this trend is. With “Cruel”, you understand Pierre — you understand his motivations, his thought process, his emotional and psychological state. At no point though does Eric ask a viewer to sympathize or empathize with the madman who states that he kills people in an attempt to feel something.
Strangely, throughout the course of the movie, as we get closer to Pierre and watch as he progresses there is an inclination to want to see him find redemption in the end. Yet, we’re constantly reminded of what a cold and callous monster he is. There’s still something real to him; he was a monster born out of being deprived what common people take for granted: connection. A connection with someone. He’s a person who had dreams and ambitions of living a normal life yet it was a life of isolation and loneliness that bred a psychopathic monster. Pierre now only gets to view and interact with the world when he stalks his victims. And he believes he gets what it is he needs in this world by causing people to understand that when he has them chained up in his basement, they are living their final moments of life.
It’s only when he is able to find that connection himself that he’s desired for so long, does he begin to discover his own humanity. This is also the moment that we get to see the truth of his psyche; he appears to be an intelligent person who has the world figured out and knows how to abduct and murder people without being caught. Yet, when he finds that elusive emotional bond, he’s exposed as nothing more than a child lashing out at the world for not having what others do. When he cannot be recognized as a person by those around him, then he wants to be acknowledged as the killer he is.
You can understand the desperation from Pierre — the need, the desire to have your existence acknowledged. It’s this same misguided concept that keeps you, the viewer, from ever believing that he can or should find redemption when he’s a man who only knows cruelty.
Eric Cherrière does a remarkable job of capturing the complexity of the Pierre character without ever asking the audience to sympathize or even idolize (i.e. Hannibal Lector) who is and what he does. He’s not this hyper-intelligent madman who has the world figured out and is able to toy with lives for his own amusement — he is simply a mentally broken man who uses violence to get what he believes he deserves in life.
“Cruel” is an incredibly well written and well directed film that simply blew me away. It was refreshing to see a more honest approach to character piece that’s about a serial killer. There’s a high level of detail and intelligence in the writing that uses both psychological and social dynamics to define Pierre and his relationship with those around him. I’m still not sure if I would compare “Cruel” to “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” but I would put them on the same level as being rather remarkable films for their subject matter. And I would highly recommend checking out “Cruel” when you can since it’s well written and directed, and features some stand out performances.