Maléfique falls short of its potential.
The film opens with a man saying goodbye to his wife and young son. The man’s name is Carrère. He is a white-collar criminal and today marks his first day in prison. We meet his cellmates: Lassalle, an older librarian who says little, Marcus, a brash young man whose large breast implants clash with his brawny physique, and Pâquerette, a man-child with a penchant for eating things.
After establishing these characters and their interpersonal dynamics, the plot kicks into gear. The men discover an old diary that doubles as a spell book. Eager to escape, the men try some incantations but discover magic carries a high cost.
I relished this premise. Taking four desperate (but not fierce) men and dangling a supernatural means of escape overflows with potential.
Carrère and Lassalle are well-cast. As Carrère, Gérald Laroche provides a grounded audience surrogate whose gradual transformation into a bitter convict carries the film. As Lassalle, Philippe Laudenbach adds gravitas, communicating volumes with his weary looks.
I was fine with Clovis Cornillac as Marcus, but his character felt underwritten—his transgenderedness regulated to a plot device. As Pâquerette, Dimitri Rataud’s performance felt artificial. I kept hoping the film would reveal Pâquerette as a calculating mastermind masquerading as an imbecile, but no.
Instead, the story devolves into a predictable version of The Monkey’s Paw. What begins with echoes of Lovecraft ends like an episode of Tales from the Crypt.
Imagine a film that took these characters—one imprisoned in his body, one in his mind, one in his wealth—and explored their prisons and the lengths they would go for freedom. Maléfique is not that movie. It’s not a bad film, just a disappointing one.