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BLACK HEAVEN
DVD. Arrow Films.

Black HeavenRemember when cyber thrillers were all the rage – with filmmakers, if not audiences? Gilles Marchand’s Black Heaven is a return to the genre, albeit with a more modern twist, and almost pulls off the seemingly impossible task of making online activity sexy.

When gawky youth Gaspard (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) and cute girlfriend Marion (Pauline Etienne) find a mobile phone in a beach hut, they investigate the messages on it and are intrigued enough with the mysterious content to turn up for a meeting between the mysterious Sam and her caller Dragon. Following the pair, they watch as they buy hardware supplies and drive out into the countryside. After finally catching up with them, the young couple’s fun game of espionage turns serious as they discover a car filled with exhaust fumes. Dragon is dead, and Sam is barely alive. Gaspard pockets a video camera that has been filming their final moments before calling the police.

Soon afterwards, Gaspard and his buddies visit the home of a drug dealer, only to find that Sam – real name Audrey (Louise Bourgoin) – is his sister. Gaspard, already becoming fixated on the suicide video, finds himself drawn to the mysterious and seductive woman, and soon discovers that her tattoo is a reference to a private fetish community that exists in a Second Life-style online world called Black Hole. Before long, he has entered the game himself and finds his life being taken over by the woman who seems fixated on death, and who attracts those who want to die in real life, as well as virtually.

Black HeavenBlack Heaven opens very well – the unfolding mystery and tension builds steadily, as Gaspard finds himself sucked into a world that he is ill prepared for. But things start to become less interesting in the middle. The online game footage looks authentic enough, but that’s not a good thing in a feature film – when large chunks of story take place in a poorly animated CGI world, it’s difficult to really give a damn about what is happening to the characters who are both physically and vocally (because the characters have their own voices) flat. As the story takes a twist towards the end, the necessity of this online footage becomes apparent (and you’ll retrospectively recognise clues dropped in earlier) – but it makes it no more interesting. What’s more, it’s hard to really relate to Gaspard, who is far too bland to make a sympathetic hero, or Audrey, who you just can’t see finding this dopey character at all interesting and who is too vague a character to make a effective femme fatale.

Thankfully, the film picks up for a final act that, although riddled with holes, at least pulls things together and raises the tension levels – though it has to be said that the ending is unfortunately quite weak, lacking the emotional punch that it needs.

Black Heaven is a decent effort, with enough positive elements to make it worth checking out. But as both a cyber thriller and a Lynchian, darkly erotic tale of innocence corrupted, it doesn’t quite achieve its potential. In the end, it’s a decent stab at doing something original that is let down by elements that are, unfortunately, essential to the final story but that grind it to a halt unless you know what is to come. I imagine a second viewing might actually be more interesting for this reason..

DAVID FLINT

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