5150 Elm's Way

Director: Eric Tessier (2009)
Starring: Marc-Andre Grondin, Normand D'Armour, Sonia Vachon
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

A bit of French kitchen sink horror, this, with an emphasis on chess and mindgames. 5150 Elm's Way plays like Mum & Dad meets Dexter with a bit of The Hamiltons thrown in to boot. Cycling around looking like Justin Long, film student Yannick (Grondin) falls face first off his bike and limps over to a neighboring house in search of help. He meets taxi driver Jacques (D'Amour) who appears initially friendly but then kidnaps the poor kid and locks him away in a dingy room. After several kerfuffles and the usual false escape then recapture malarky, Jacques presents Yannick with a proposition: beat him at chess, go free. Game on.

Elements of 5150 Elm's Way feel way too familiar and predictable. Yannick makes a number of breaks for freedom over the course of the film, and every time I knew he would fail. Every times he takes up arms to fight Jacques and his family, there's a feeling that you know he's doomed to fall. Spoiler by the way. But then there are elements of originality that make this interesting and well worth one's time. I never thought that a series of chess matches could be taut and thrilling and tense but director Eric Tessier pulls it off. Writer Patrick Senecal's script makes the chess matches account for something - like there's really something at stake - well assisted by the director and the film's two leads.

Those stakes keep rising, the tension building. As Jacques unveils his custom-made chess set, his mind begins to unravel. Yannick too, looks to be losing his mind. There are trippy hallucinations to go with all the chess and some genuine shocks in the final act. Not being your typical bit of Hollywood dross, it even has subtexts and things. Jacques becomes something of a surrogate father to Yannick, albeit in the worst way. Partnered with Jacques's wonderful moustache, this makes it well worth one's time. 5150 Elm's Way is a clever, tight bit of Gallic horror that might skimp on the gore but certainly doesn't do so with its thrills. Check and mate.

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