Fantasia Festival: Vincent Must Die (2023)

Director: Stéphan Castang

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Starring: Karim Leklou, Vimala Pons, François Chattot, Karoline Rose Sun, Emmanuel Vérité, Jean-Rémi Chaize

For his feature directorial debut, Stéphan Castang focuses upon a seemingly average graphic designer named Vincent (Karim Leklou). After an incident where nobody laughs at his joke, the awkward employee finds his day worsens when an intern violently attacks him out of the blue. Despite wishing to move on, the attacks continue against Vincent courtesy of random strangers, leaving him worrying about where the next attack will come from.

Working off Mathieu Naert's screenplay, Castang laces a fascinating premise with dark humour while setting it within an apocalyptic atmosphere. While the lead character questions why this situation is unfolding, he should be asking how long he has left within a world trying to kill him. Objects within scenes become tense additions which signify where danger may come from, although the stand-out moment involves a faulty septic tank which delivers dark comedy amidst an unpleasant sequence.

In order to survive, Vincent observes behavioural patterns in others to try and figure out why he is being attacked. Leklou's central performance is key, effectively capturing how the character is traumatized and fearful while still a bit hopeful. He continues to try finding a semblance of normality while avoiding eye contact with everyone else, although the events are clearly taking their toll on him. For someone that was reluctant to file a HR complaint, he becomes forced to defend himself with violence.

While adapting to living in isolation, Vincent becomes smitten with local restaurant worker Margaux (a charming Vimala Pons) and wonders whether a relationship is possible. It becomes easy to root for the pair as they share lovely chemistry, while also signifying how the premise keeps changing by throwing interesting wrinkles into the developing story. The unfolding horrors and devastation are effectively captured amidst a worsening landscape, particularly when the sight of an affected crowd resembles a horde of zombies. Yet one wishes there was more consistency with some of the affected symptoms, as elements do not hold up to scrutiny within a film that runs on for too long.

There's a sense of Vincent's worries not being taken seriously, with his workplace focusing on sweeping the violent incidents under the rug by removing the victim from the office. He is offered little room to share the toll such assaults have on his mental state, with attempts to verbalize those feelings being met with disinterest. The tale effectively shows how loneliness can leave such resentment and hatred to build-up until the cycle of violence tragically continues, yet does not leave the tale there. Even in the darker moments, happiness is attainable courtesy of the resilience of human connection, which is an effective message within a film that tries drowning its lead in human waste.

Vincent Must Die made its North American Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2023