The 2003 EVIL WORDS, or SUR LE SEUIL, was a sizeable success in its native Quebec, and is often dubbed the finest-ever Quebec-made horror movie. It was based on a novel by Patrick Senecal and directed by first-timer Eric Tessier, who prior to this film was best known for the multi award-winning 1998 short “Viens Dehors!,” or “Come Out!” (included on the EVIL WORDS DVD).
On the day of a seemingly senseless massacre of several children, bestselling horror writer Thomas Ray attempts suicide, cutting off all his fingers before doing so. Ray survives but remains in a comatose state. Has-been psychiatrist Dr. Paul Lacasse is given the unenviable job of delving into Ray’s past to ferret out what made him do what he did.
Helped out by a tabloid journalist pal and a pregnant woman colleague, Lacasse discovers that Ray kept a scrapbook of real-life tragedies upon which he apparently based his fiction—although it seems that in many cases the incidents took place after Ray had written his fiction. This inspires Paul to look into the massacre that occurred the day of Ray’s attempted suicide, and the man who committed it. The interview is over with quickly, with the murderer admitting he doesn’t really know why he committed the killings.
Next Lacasse heads to the rural town where Ray grew up to talk to his mother, who recalls Ray writing a story about a Satanic sect as a teenager. The yarn had a basis in fact, as a visit to an elderly priest confirms.
According to the priest, around the time of Ray’s birth a depraved reigioso engaged in Satanic shenanigans that culminated with a newborn child baptized in the name of Satan. That child was Thomas Ray, whose Satanic powers are apparently manifesting themselves in the massacres patterned after his imaginings, which aren’t finished by any means…
Structurally this is an investigative mystery of a type usually seen on TV, but stylistically it’s far more expansive. Eric Tessier’s visuals are hip and flashy, utilizing gaudy colors and hallucinatory CGI segues depicting grotesque and blasphemous imagery (which based on his work thus far appears to be Tessier’s trademark).
Yet the flashiness never detracts from the impressive performances by many of Quebec’s top actors, or the momentum of the narrative, which is expansive and novelistic—and contains some gruesome surprises. Some might find the extreme gore of the final scenes overwrought, but the nastiness closes out the film in jolting and appropriately disquieting fashion.
EVIL WORDS is by no means the first treatment of the writer’s-words-inspiring-actual-calamities concept (see the seventies Canadian film DEAD LINE and Ramsey Campbell’s tale “The Depths,” to name a couple examples), but Tessier’s innovative treatment of the theme, at once staunchly old fashioned and up-to-date, is without precedent.
EVIL WORDS (SUR LE SEUIL)
Alliance Atlantis/Go Films
Director: Eric Tessier
Producer: Nicole Robert
Screenplay: Patrick Senecal, Eric Tessier
(Based on a novel by Patrick Senecal)
Cinematography: Denis-Noel Mostert
Editing: Alain Baril
Cast: Michel Cote, Patrick Huard, Catherine Florent, Albert Millaire, Jean L’Italien, Jacques Lavalee, Jean-Pierre Bergeron