Black Heaven out now on DVD

Tuesday, 06 September 2011 09:23

“Black Heaven” is a dark and slinky techno thriller from France with a serious message about the potential perils of becoming immersed in cyberspace. Gaspard (Grégoire Leprince-Riguet) and Marion (Pauline Etienne) are young, sweet and innocent lovers. One day they stumble upon a lost mobile phone and start snooping on the owner and his beautiful blond girlfriend. They follow the couple and end up saving the girl in the midst of a disturbing suicide pact.

Marion thinks no more about the incident and looks forward to her future with Gaspard, but he becomes increasingly obsessed with the blond lady called Audrey (Louise Bourgoin - "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec"), and her involvement in a mysterious online videogame called 'Black Hole'. In this alternate reality, Audrey's avatar is Sam, a submissive slave, whilst in real life she is in with a bad crowd of thrill-seeking drug dealers. Death and deceit intersect both worlds.

Black Heaven out now on DVDGilles Marchand's film is marketed as a blend of "Tron" and "Blue Velvet", and you could also throw in "Betty Blue" into the mix. The power of this film hinges on Audrey's self-destructive nature and Gaspard's inexorably growing infatuation with her, at the expense of everything else, most notably his girlfriend and best mates. She is an intoxicating siren, and his discovery of the role-playing game helps to draw him in, providing a way to secretly interact with her without Marion finding out.

Thanks to credible characterisation and compelling acting, we care what happens to the protagonists. As foolish as Gaspard is for driving a wedge into his wonderful relationship with Marion, we keenly follow him deeper into his obsession with Audrey, hoping that he does not get too burnt in the process and sees the light before it is too late.

The online game itself is starkly realised, much like the aforementioned "Tron". Nearly everything in the virtual world is black and white, evoking a film noire atmosphere. Many of the characters sport hideous masks or their faces are disfigured in some way, suggesting that flaws in their real-life personas are bleeding through. When players 'die', they are sent to purgatory, known here as the 'Black Beach'. The trouble is, although they can rejoin the main game, the lure of the water's quiet and inky blackness is compelling.

Most of the film takes place in the real world, but when it does venture into the game, the direction is varied enough to prevent it feeling like the audience is purely watching someone play a game. We get drawn into the simple online story as Gaspard does, though ironically events outside the game are thankfully far more compelling.

I have no hesitation in recommending this film to thriller fans. Being a gamer myself I know only too well how alluring virtual worlds can be. They can empower players, making them feel like gods or on the other hand they can strip away the cosiness of real life and subject players to unspeakable terrors, with the reassurance that it is only a game. In "Black Heaven", both the game and the femme fatale seduce the flawed hero into pursuing a course he knows he should not, and it makes for compulsive viewing.

The DVD has no special features, so sadly we do not get any insight into how the makers dreamed up the virtual world. The film appears to have hard-coded subtitles, which are large and clear, and no English dub option. Interestingly, the game segments are mostly shot in English anyway!

“Black Heaven" (2010) is out now, courtesy of Arrow Films. The main feature has a running time of 105 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £9.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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