At one point in this loopy French thriller, Elizabeth, the antagonist landlady played by Jacqueline Bisset, gets herself all gussied up with loads of slap and a slinky dress just to show off to her lodger Julie (Alice Isaaz), whom she considers a rival. “Not bad for a 73-year-old lady, eh?” she asks, and indeed no one could possibly disagree. Bisset looks fantastic here, vamping it up as a more than slightly deranged white-haired femme fatale who walks with a cane in orthopaedic shoes and likes to make her own steak and kidney pie. (“It’s an English dish,” Julie explains to a friend who recoils on viewing the unappetising result.)
Bisset is clearly having fun with the role, as is director Baptiste Drapeau, who tips his hat not exactly to Alfred Hitchcock or Claude Chabrol, but more precisely to Claude Chabrol paying tribute to Alfred Hitchcock (think Le Beau Serge or Les Cousins but more lurid). The idea is that provincial nursing student Julie rents a room in the large, slightly gothic mansion owned by Elizabeth. Although we see in the opening credits the funeral for Elizabeth’s husband Victor, a merchant seaman who died in murky circumstances in the late 1990s, Elizabeth insists he’s still alive and talks to laid-out items from his wardrobe as if he’s still inside them. At first, Julie just humours her – remember she’s a nursing student – but then she starts to get entranced by the idea of Victor, who feels very much like a presence in the house, especially when Julie brings in a life-size nurses’ dummy with the real Victor’s raffish pencil moustache drawn on to represent him. Gradually, we start to wonder if the two women are haunted by a supernatural member of the household.
Drapeau keeps the question of Victor’s existence ambiguous for a good three-quarters of the movie. Isaaz holds her own very well, especially when her character appears to be going a few bottles short of a full case. The last section is a bit messy, but the claustrophobic atmosphere, intensified by a sultry piano score on a just slightly out of tune instrument, is most amusing.