Writer/director Alice Winocour’s ‘Disorder’ is definitely one of those movies that falls into the style-over-substance camp. The film is beautifully made and cleverly constructed. As a piece of atmospheric storytelling, it proves that the filmmaker is a talent who could do well in genre film if that’s a path that she chooses to follow. Unfortunately, the flick is also kind of a one trick pony, and once that trick is revealed, things get a little repetitive as the tale marches toward a fairly predictable finish line.
It’s still a strong, tight, and well-acted little thriller, but just isn’t nearly as complex as it initially appears to be. As a result, it also isn’t nearly as satisfying as it should be.
Ubiquitous hunky European character actor Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Vincent, a damaged yet sensitive soldier who recently returned from combat, bringing home a little hearing loss and a lot of PTSD as souvenirs. The only job suited for him is a security gig watching an incredibly wealthy businessman. His first assignment is at an opulent house party where Vincent seems perpetually on-edge and paranoid. He’s convinced that he’s constantly hearing and seeing signs of danger and it’s never quite clear if he’s correct. Eventually, he ends up watching the wife (Diane Kruger from ‘Inglorious Basterds’) and kiddie (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant) of his employer solo. While he slowly develops a charming relationship with the pair, his ever-present paranoia never softens. Unfortunately, for everyone other than the audience, Vincent’s fears prove to be correct and the flick slowly transforms (or devolves, depending on your point of view) into a tense home invasion thriller.
Released in Europe under the original title ‘Maryland’, the first half of ‘Disorder’ is rather brilliantly crafted. Winocour uses restless, jittery camerawork to follow her cracked protagonist in a manner that both visually represents his fractured mental state and keeps all the images he’s convinced that he’s seeing slightly out of view. The clever sound design suggests mysterious doings just outside the frame and an ever-foreboding state of dread. It’s viscerally affecting and also showcases Schoenaerts’ performance rather well.
A specialist in quiet brooding, Schoenaerts is ideal for this sort of character who rarely says what he’s thinking. The actor presents a man perpetually on-edge and clearly damaged, but never in a psychotic or creepy way. He’s broken, but sympathetic. Diane Kruger makes for a strong sparring partner in a role that’s almost as ambiguous. She’s a bit lost and confused, but also warm and caring when she has the opportunity to bring those qualities out. Together, they provide the soul of the movie. The rest of the characters are present mainly for genre games.
Winocour has unashamedly made a brooding, violent and suspenseful thriller and she clearly enjoys playing games with the formula. Unfortunately, all of her best work comes in the first half when the threat remains vague and possibly purely psychological. When it comes time for things to get messy, the director stages her set-pieces with realist grit and scores some big shocks and impact. However, it’s never as interesting or effective as the evocative character-driven mystery that leads up to it.
The movie ultimately ends up coming off as a decent little thriller. That’s absolutely fine and viewers who enjoy such things will be satisfied. However, it’s a shame to see the movie end up in that generic place after establishing a far richer and dramatically complex world before the fists start flying. Hopefully, if Winocour decides to dip her toes into the genre pool again, she’ll do so with a little more ambition. She’s proven that she can pull off a thriller just fine, but also suggested that she could elevate the genre to a more psychologically complex place if given the opportunity.