The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - THE FIVE DEVILS | The Movie Waffler


A young girl harnesses magical powers to understand the relationship between her mother and aunt.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Léa Mysius

Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Sally Dramé, Swala Emati, Moustapha Mbengue, Daphné Patakia

The Five Devils poster

French director Léa Mysius made an impressive feature debut in 2017 with her coming-of-age tale Ava. Her followup, The Five Devils, similarly offers a young female protagonist in nine-year-old Vicky (first-timer Sally Dramé), but while The Five Devils might be described as a coming-of-age tale, it's also something of a supernatural thriller.

The Five Devils review

Vicky has a special gift, an exaggerated sense of smell that allows her to discern scents that she hasn't even come into contact with before. In a scene that reminded me of the best moment of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable – when Bruce Willis's son keeps adding weights to his father's lifting bar to prove his supernatural abilities – Vicky's mother, swimming pool attendant Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) tries to hide from her daughter in a forest, but is easily tracked down  by her aroma.

Vicky is so obsessed with scents that she keeps mementos from important people in her life in labelled jars, which she occasionally inhales like a glue-sniffer seeking a quick high. When Vicky's aunt, Julia (Swala Emati), arrives to stay, Vicky immediately captures her scent, but finds it so overwhelming that it knocks her out cold. While unconscious, Vicky appears to regress back in time 10 years and watches from afar as Julia and Joanne embark on a lesbian affair.

The Five Devils review

Things are spiced up when it's revealed that Julia can see Vicky, making the young girl's trips more akin to time-travel than simply visions. Julia arrives back in town an unwanted figure, having committed some sort of act 10 years ago for which she was legally cleared but socially unforgiven. Joanne is particularly uncomfortable having her old lover around, but soon her old feelings resurface. Her husband, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue, Senegal's Brad Pitt), is in an awkward position, aware of the threat his sister poses to his marriage but unable to turn her away.

What plays out is something of a reversal of the Shadow of a Doubt template, where a charismatic relative arrives and charms the family, only for their young niece to grow suspicious. Here everyone is already suspicious of Julia, and it's only Vicky, through her visions, that begins to see the truth and her own role in her aunt's downfall. Time-travel movies always have that moment where the time-traveller does something to dramatically change the course of reality, and that's the case here, with Julia driven mad by her visions of Vicky, who always manages to disappear before anyone else can catch a glimpse of her.

The Five Devils review

The narrative doesn't come together as satisfyingly as you might like, and the time-travel aspect is really just a way to enliven flashbacks, but Mysius and her romantic partner Paul Guilhaume (co-writer and cinematographer) keep us invested with some beautiful visuals that capture the frostiness of the Alpine region. A stunning lake that will kill you if you spend more than 40 minutes in its icy waters seems like a metaphor for Joanne's concealed feelings for Julie. The striking opening image of a teenage Joanne and several other girls clad in gymnast's leotards as a fire rages behind them gives us a hint to the reasons behind Julie's ostracisation, keeping us on edge as we're nudged toward that moment through Vicky's trips back in time. Other subplots – the racially loaded bullying of Vicky by classmates, Jimmy's affair with a work colleague (Daphné Patakia) of Joanne – are half-baked and add little to the overall narrative. Like the mountainous area of its setting, The Five Devils is roughly hewn, but it possesses a dark beauty that's easy to get lost in.

The Five Devils
 is on MUBI UK now.

2023 movie reviews