24th Oct2018

LFF 2018: ‘All the Gods in the Sky’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jean-Luc Couchard, Mélanie Gaydos, Thierry Frémont, Zelie Rixhon, Albert Delpy, Loïc Houdré, Xavier Mussel, Adeline Walter | Written and Directed by Quarxx

all-gods-sky-poster

Expanded from his own short (A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky), this unsettling body horror from self-monikered director Quarxx slots neatly into the New French Extremity movement, popularised by the likes of Martyrs, Frontiere(s) and Haute Tension. By turns queasy, disturbing and unexpectedly moving, it’s an accomplished and divisive debut that marks a strong calling card for its writer-director-editor.

Jean-Luc Couchard plays Simon, a 30 year old factory worker who lives in the remote French countryside with his younger sister Estelle (Melanie Gaydos), who was left severely disabled after a childhood game went horribly wrong. Haunted by guilt and fiercely protective of his sister, Simon goes to extreme lengths to protect her when social services come calling. At the same time, he appears to be losing his grip on reality, convinced that his salvation lies in the hands of extra-terrestrial forces, which he appears to be summoning with a series of crop circles.

All the Gods in the Sky sets out its stall in the opening scenes with a jarring contrast between its gorgeously shot bucolic visuals (courtesy of cinematographer Antoine Carpentier) and the hellish industrial noise soundscape provided by Simon’s workplace. The effect is disorienting and unsettling, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Jean-Luc Couchard pulls off a tricky balancing act as Simon, mixing genuine pathos with an underlying menace that grows stronger as the film progresses. There’s also strong support from relative newcomer Zelie Rixhon as Zoe Debart, a bored, precocious young teenager who unexpectedly befriends Simon. The ensuing dynamic between the two perfectly encapsulates the games Quarxx plays with audience expectations – suffice it to say that the story never quite goes where you expect, though it’s quite happy to let you think otherwise for as long as possible, clearly relishing the squirm-inducing discomfort engendered in the audience.

Quarxx’s control of the tone is impressive throughout, building and sustaining queasy tension before unleashing moments of sickening horror. In addition, the script cleverly leaves certain things unsaid, allowing the audience to reach their own conclusions based on visual details, such as the state of the house or the marks on Estelle’s body that are never fully explained. He’s also adept at producing moments of unbearable tension – the aforementioned childhood game scene is horrific on a number of levels.

All the Gods in the Sky also benefits from some sparsely used effects work that feels like a nod to Eraserhead, as well as some intense sound design that heightens the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

The script explores several complex themes, including mental illness, sibling rivalry, carer-patient relationships and traumatising guilt / grief, with an emotional intensity that’s surprisingly powerful. On top of that, Quarxx pulls off a terrific final act shift, as Simon’s inexorable descent into madness becomes ever more dizzying and shocking.

In fairness, All the Gods in the Sky won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those with a fondness for transgressive cinema will be riveted throughout, thanks to Quarxx’s accomplished direction, a provocative script and superb performances from Couchard and Rixhon.

**** 4/5

All the Gods in the Sky screened as part of this years London Film Festival.

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