A documentary looks to uncover the truth about a legendary French film from the early 1900s called, “La Rage du Démon”. It’s said that the film was only shown once but it caused a violent reaction in the audience that resulted in multiple deaths. The film disappeared from existence after the original showing, leaving only speculations about the film by aficionados over the years. Now, it seems that this mysterious and dangerous movie has surfaced once again.
No matter who you are, where you come from, or how old you might be, we all love a good ghost story. Regardless of a tale’s believability, there’s something that is always satisfying about listening to a well told spooky story. Filmmaker Fabien Delage looks to weave a new urban legend by mixing together genuine facts about the early years of filmmaking with myths of the occult and a cursed movie.
The general setup to “La Rage du Démon” is a little strange since mockumentaries tend start completely from scratch and build everything from the ground up. Delage’s film uses people from the world of cinema — from historians and preservationists to people like Alexandre Aja and Dave Alexander — as themselves and the work of Georges Méliès (“Trip to the Moon”). While it’s never flattering when you admit to your own gullibility, but as a compliment to the effort in presenting “La Rage du Démon” as something genuine, I wasn’t sure if it was fictitious or not when I initially went into it.
Don’t judge me. Just like Mulder, I want to believe.
Strangely, that becomes the central theme of “La Rage du Démon”: believing. More specifically, how people are willing to let themselves believe in fantasy, whether it’s movies, magic, or the supernatural. Fabien mixes fiction with non-fiction so well, that it is easy enough to lose that line that separates the genuine work of Georges Méliès and other early filmmakers with the film’s stories of a movie so terrifying that it causes mass hysteria whenever it’s shown.
There’s just enough transparency in the “La Rage du Démon” that you can, of course, separate the facts from the fiction and that might be where my only complaint lies with the movie. In general, I hate any documentary that relies on sensationalism and atmosphere — “The Nightmare”, “Cropsey”, “The Imposter”, etc. — but I would have liked to have seen that played with a bit more in “La Rage du Démon”. However, I admit, that is a tricky area because Fabien’s film is a respectable effort because it keeps things in a more realistic tone and structure in order to bleed the lines. Had the film gone for more of an atmospheric tone, it might have lost that noteworthy aspect of it.
Changing the tone of the movie might have also affected that underlying theme of exploring the relationship between people and fantasy. “La Rage du Démon” is an equivalent of a ghost story; you know it isn’t real, but the concept of filmmakers using occult rituals within their movies and the creation of a cursed movie out said rituals makes “La Rage du Démon” fun. It’s fun to let yourself get caught up in the very idea because it’s an unsettling concept. And that’s a crucial aspect of what “La Rage du Démon” is about. While it is a mockumentary, there is a genuine examination (although it doesn’t dig too deeply) of why we allow ourself to believe in the fantastical. Why we are so willing to go along for the ride even if deep down we know it to be untrue.
“La Rage du Démon” is also in its own strange way a love letter to the work of Georges Méliès, even with the film’s plot conveying the idea that he might be responsible for this mysterious and deadly movie. Fabein’s film effortlessly ties in the work and life of Méliès in with its theme of people and their love of fantasy. And it makes sense in the greater scheme of things because Méliès was one of the first filmmakers to give us the amazing and the fantastical in cinema form. He was a man who used the illusions of magicians to create phantasmagorical pieces of work that people could get lost in. Because he was a pioneer in effects and creating bizarre visual forms of storytelling, you could believe that his man also created a movie that wasn’t meant for the world of the living.
“La Rage du Démon” is a respectable effort because, superficially, it seems like a simple little movie — a mockumentary about a cursed film that doesn’t actually exist. Yet the multiple layers and how well they blend together and play off of one another is what makes it admirable. More over, I enjoyed that Fabien’s film exists as a form of the very thesis that it is presenting. While the movie asks and explores why people are willing and eager to believe in dark and macabre fantasies, it too is asking you to do the same with its own story. While the tone and atmosphere are a little dry, “La Rage du Démon” is a fascinating little creation that celebrates cinema while wanting to understand people's love of a good ghost story.
Note: No rating scores below for this one, as it's a documentary.