Léa Mysius blends fantasy, horror, and time travel but falls short with a convoluted narrative. Read our The Five Devils review.
The Five Devils, directed by Léa Mysius, is a film that tries to be everything at once. It is a mixture of childlike fantasy, horror, time travel, multiculturalism, and bisexuality, all set in an enchanting French alpine village. The film features a stellar performance by Adèle Exarchopoulos and an impressive debut by Sally Dramé as her biracial daughter, Vicky.
The film takes place in the small town of Isère, where Joanne (Exarchopoulos) works as a water aerobics instructor and swimming teacher. She is unhappily married to Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), a Senegalese-French fireman, and the tension between them is heightened when Jimmy’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) comes to stay. Julia has a dark past, and her presence causes a stir among the town’s residents, particularly Joanne’s colleague Nadine (Daphne Patakia), who bears disfiguring scars from a traumatic event.
Meanwhile, Vicky, bullied at school for being black, has an extraordinary sense of smell. She can track her mother’s scent from miles away and recreate the smell imprint of people she knows using various ingredients, including a dead bird. She also can time travel through smells and witness the traumas that shaped others’ lives.
The film explores themes of racism, homophobia, and the lingering effects of trauma. It uses striking visuals, mainly yellow fire and blue water, to represent the elemental forces that drive the characters. The film’s 35mm cinematography is stunning, but its narrative is convoluted, and the emotional payoff is eventually unsatisfying.
While admirable, the film’s attempts to blend genres often need clarification. Its combination of childlike fantasy and horror creates a sense of unease, but its use of time travel feels superfluous. The film’s meandering plot and lack of psychological depth make it difficult to invest in the characters’ stories fully.
Despite these flaws, the film is not without its charms. Sally Dramé stands out as Vicky, imbuing her character with a sense of wonder and mystery. Exarchopoulos delivers a compelling performance as the conflicted Joanne, whose desires and emotions are suppressed beneath a stoic exterior.
The Five Devils tries too hard to be all things to everyone. Its ambitious blend of genres and themes results in a movie that is often mysterious and baffling. While it has moments of visual and emotional resonance, it ultimately falls short of its lofty ambitions.
This film may appeal to those looking for an offbeat and visually striking experience. However, its narrative shortcomings and lack of emotional depth make it a flawed work that falls short of its potential. With that said, it’s still worth seeing for its standout performances and stunning visuals.