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5150 Elm’s Way (2009)

Director: Éric Tessier
Starring: Marc-André Grondin, Normand D’Amour, Sonia Vachon
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 110 minutes

Last year Patrick Senécal adapted Seven Days, an intense revenge-torture thriller that presented a temperamental protagonist and moral dichotomies. The adaptation of another Senécal novel, 5150 Elm’s Way, continues the tradition of muddying the boundaries between good and evil.

After getting into college on a two year directing course, our ill-fated hero Yannick (Grondin) falls off his bike outside the Beaulieu residence. Jacques Beaulieu (D’Amour ) heads inside his house to ring a taxi for Yannick. Whilst he is waiting for Jacques to return, curiosity gets the better of Yannick and he heads inside the house. Unfortunately he stumbles into a room that houses a strung up and tortured man. In response to this discovery, Jacques shotgun-guides Yannick to his own prison within the house. As Yannick is left to reflect on things, one can’t help but draw similarities to Senseless – a torture film with both a moral point and a distinct lack of torture in the early stages. 5150 Elm’s Way is much more than a torture film. It is the story of a dysfunctional family with strong religious beliefs that are trying to do the right thing.

Jacques is insulted when Yannick brands him a torturer. He sees the world in black and white – you are either righteous or unrighteous. Those that are unrighteous deserve death. As Yannick has proved himself righteous, early in the film helping the Beaulieu’s youngest daughter Anne (Lariviére), he must live. He is offered food and relative comfort; he is even given the opportunity to eat with the Beaulieu’s until a botched mid-meal escape. The eldest daughter, Michelle (St-Sauveur) is Jacque’s protégé and a bit of a loose cannon. Jacques sets his sights on handing over the family business to Michelle, although her hot headed and unpredictable temperament gets her into trouble. Her conflict with Yannick sees her assaulting him to which Jacques scolds “no unnecessary violence.”

Jacques sees himself as a Robin Hood figure, upholding the will of the good and punishing the evil. He justifies his belief system to Yannick, explaining the last person he tortured was a drug-dealer. Mid-film he targets another unrighteous castaway – a child molester. Yannick is offered the chance of escape if he can prove Jacques to be unrighteous. To do this he simply needs to beat him at chess. Jacques plays as the righteous whites and is undefeated. This leads to Yannick obsessing over chess tactics and Jacque’s declaration that to escape without beating him is to not escape at all. Yannick’s consequential fixation on chess and rapid deterioration is filmed to perfection. His hallucinatory breakdown not only blurs the lines between good and evil, truth and falsehoods, but nightmares and reality.

5150 Elm’s Way is successful because of its characterisation. The unhinged family all carry a suitcase of demons. Wife Maude (Vachon) is stuck in the centre, needing to satisfy her husband’s wishes but seeing Yannick as a good figure, even contemplating him as a means of escape from her own troubled life. Anne is perhaps the most disturbed and unpredictable of the family. She is a victim of confused morality, seldom speaking but frequently surprising and shocking the audience. Michelle is a straight-up angry teenager with a temper and wrath that parallels the most disturbed of serial killers. Jacques justifies his appalling actions through his moral code and chess winning streak.

In a horror climate overrun with torture for torture’s sake, 5150 Elm’s Way joins the ranks of Martyrs and Senseless. To reinstate – this is more than a torture film. Stick with this one until the end, things get messy…

MICHAEL WILSON

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