The Movie Waffler First Look Review - SATURN BOWLING | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - SATURN BOWLING

Saturn Bowling review
A cop investigates a series of killings, unaware the culprit is his estranged brother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Patricia Mazuy

Starring: Arieh Worthalter, Achille Reggiani, Y-Lan Lucas, Leïla Muse, Frédéric van den Driessche

Saturn Bowling poster

It's often said that cruelty to animals is an indicator that someone might have a similar propensity for violence towards humans, and most serial killers begin their fledgling careers by "practicing" on animals. But what if this advancement from torturing and killing animals to doing likewise to humans skips a generation? That's the unique question posed by director Patricia Mazuy's atmospheric if inconsistent thriller Saturn Bowling.

In the Northern French town of Caen, Armand was known as the king of the local hunting community, bagging prey in France and abroad. When Armand dies he leaves his bowling alley and its connected apartment to his police detective son Guillaume (Arieh Worthalter). Armand's other son, also named Armand (Achille Reggiani) received nothing in the will thanks to their estranged relationship. Not wanting the bother of running a bowling alley, and maybe feeling a little bad for Armand, Guillaume offers the job of managing the establishment to his brother. Equally estranged from Guillaume, Armand is initially reluctant but ultimately decides it beats his current job as a nightclub doorman, not to mention that he's homeless and has been sleeping in the club. And when he pulls on his old man's snakeskin jacket, he's sold on his new role.

Saturn Bowling review

Mazuy and co-writer Yves Thomas split their film into roughly two distinct chapters, each foregrounding one of the brothers. We're introduced to Armand in a manner that lures us into sympathy for the big lug that we'll later regret. He's clearly down on his luck, and his opposition to his father and his hunting buddies will get most viewers on his side. The contrast between his smartly dressed brother and Armand's one set of hoody and jeans similarly plays into certain class prejudices we might hold. Plus, in the current climate, there's very little appetite for movies that portray a cop as the good guy.

Saturn Bowling is more nuanced than that. Guillaume is far from likeable, but his brother is a monster. Once he takes over the bowling alley Armand begins to use his position as a means to impress young female customers. After a couple of failed attempts, Armand is able to lure one unsuspecting woman upstairs to his apartment, where rough sex turns to physical violence and ultimately murder. That Armand was able to win us over earlier (thanks to Reggiani's ability to switch between charmingly vulnerable and outright terrifying) negates any questions we might have regarding why a young woman would fall for his ruse.

Saturn Bowling review

Mazuy shoots the killing in the sort of unflinching detail French filmmakers have been known for since the 2000s era of New French Extremity. What makes it particularly disturbing is the lack of resistance by Armand's victim (a brief but haunting performance by Leila Muse), hoping in vain that if she gives way Armand will stop short of taking her life. There's clever use of Reggiani's physicality here, as his previously stooped and slouched shoulders suddenly expand like the feathers of some sinister peacock. It's a disturbingly effective means of illustrating the newfound power Armand is embracing in controlling someone more vulnerable than himself.

If it seems we're in for a Columbo style narrative of a detective playing cat and mouse with a killer whose guilt has been made explicit to the audience, it's a surprise when Mazuy makes the odd decision to render Armand a background figure for much of the rest of the movie. Instead we focus on Guillaume and his investigation, along with his unlikely romance with Xuan (Y-Lan Lucas), an eco-activist who has drawn the ire of his fellow cops and the local hunters, who see her as a threat to their sick hobby. Guillaume finds himself torn between his new lover and his late father's friends, who happen to be some of the most influential men in town. With its dynamic of hunters as an illustration of patriarchal bonds, fans of French cinema may see Saturn Bowling as a spiritual successor to Serge Leroy's 1975 thriller La Traque, in which a similar group of influential hunters try to cover up a rape committed by one of their members.

What muddies the waters is Armand's apparent contempt for the hunters and their hobby, though this could simply be fuelled by his hatred for his late father. Armand doesn't seem to see any irony in his disgust towards hunting animals, despite him being responsible for the many young female corpses his brother is charged with investigating.

Saturn Bowling review

It's in the procedural element that Saturn Bowling begins to come apart. If you're after a realistic look at a police investigation into violence against young women in France then I suggest the recent thriller The Night of the 12th as an alternative, as Saturn Bowling bears little relation to the reality of such procedures. Despite a half dozen dead bodies showing up, the cases are left in the sole charge of Guillaume rather than having a squad of investigators dispatched from Paris. There seems to be a bizarre lack of interest from the media, with not so much as one reporter or news crew showing up in town. Surely this would be front page news in France? It's also difficult to buy into Armand being able to get away with his crimes so easily. It shouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to note that all the victims were last seen at his bowling alley, and given Armand's favouring of attractive young women, it's not like they would have gone unnoticed. Wouldn't Armand's staff have pegged their boss regularly leaving the establishment with young women who just happen to later turn up dead?

It all leads to a rather convenient and clichéd climax, and by that point you'll have had to suspend a lot of disbelief to stay onboard with Saturn Bowling's frustrating narrative. You might wonder if a good half hour of plot development has been left on the cutting room floor, as the climax feels oddly rushed, like an ending tacked onto the pilot episode of a TV show that never made it to air. It's a shame as Mazuy displays a lot of talent in creating a stifling, scuzzy atmosphere that will have you needing a shower after viewing her film.

Saturn Bowling
is in US cinemas from September 29th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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