Halloween may well be over, but short film fans looking for something a little more sinister are in for a treat with Jean-François Leblanc’s Landgraves. The unsettling tale of a music journalist who travels deep into the wilderness to interview a notorious heavy metal duo after their release from prison, this claustrophobic tale will leave you wondering whether this unusual pair really have a taste for murder, or are just f*cking with their paranoid interviewer.
A dark film, in both style and story, Landgraves opens as we follow somewhat naive journalist Jérémie on his journey to interview brothers Patrick and Éric. As his music streaming service begins to cut out and we see him reach a snowy crossroads, we begin to realise not only how isolated he is, but how far out of his comfort zones he is. A strategically placed copy of an article about the duo’s prison sentence gives us all the backstory we need for the band and helps set the tense tone of the film from the outset.
Upon arrival at the pair’s rural retreat and after witnessing a recording session (where the engineer informs him “they’ve been playing the same thing all day”), Jérémie finally gets his chance to question the musicians. With Patrick seated, while his heavily tattooed brother hovers at the drinks cabinet behind him, he quickly informs his interviewer that he hopes he “didn’t come here write bullshit”, before quickly launching into an unsettling explanation of how murder has changed him. Probably not the response the journalist was expecting when he quizzed him on “what made you want to play music again?”.
There’s an obvious tension between the band and Jérémie, but things quickly get worse for the increasingly anxious journalist as he’s invited to go somewhere with the band and finds himself at the scene of the notorious murder. As Patrick reveals the “truth” behind the incident, a haunted look in both brothers eyes, Jérémie’s concerns build as he starts to suspect they aren’t alone in the cabin. After surrendering to his panic and fleeing the scene, he returns to his place of work where his editor labels his article “revenge” and unusable. Whether his fears are justified, or just paranoia, we’ll never be sure, but the film ends on a note that is both darkly funny and deliciously haunting. I think it’s one of the most memorable conclusions I’ve seen in short film for a while.
From heavy-metal pioneers Black Sabbath to the vomit-drinking exploits of Slipknot, heavy metal has become synonymous with controversy over the years – with some of the most heinous crimes not too dissimilar from those committed by Landgraves. Leblanc and writer Alexandre Auger, play on this reputation throughout their 23-minute short with dialogue revolving around self-mutilation, psychedelic drugs and of course…murder.
As a fan of heavy metal myself, it certainly feels like Leblanc and Auger have done their research here as Landgraves has a disturbingly authentic feel to it. However, it’s not just the script working to ramp up the genuine feel of the story, the aesthetic, performances, soundtrack and even the title font all play a vital role in the taut, claustrophobic feel of the film. Dimly lit throughout (apart from a couple of scenes), candles and open fires ensure the rural setting gets more and more ominous as Jérémie’s evening unravels, while the performances of Pierre-Luc Brillant and Souldia (a Quebec rapper) add a real sense of threat to the Landgraves duo. And of course, you can’t have a film about heavy metal without a menacing soundtrack, with duo Xavier Germain-Poitras and Louis Guillemette (who used to perform under the moniker Solids) channelling some angry Mogwai vibes in their original tracks for the film.
A short very much tailored to my own personal tastes with its dark storyline and reverberating soundtrack, what most impressed me about Landgraves was how utterly captivated I was throughout. At 23-minutes in length, it’s what we classify as a “long short” here at S/W, but although the pacing is quite slow (silence plays a large part in the building dread throughout) my engagement never wained once, that claustrophobic anxiety radiating from the film and completely putting me on edge. The second film of Leblanc’s we’ve featured on our site, where his previous short The Prince of Val-Bé impressed with its character work, Landgraves took the director’s work to another level (although a large share of the credit also has to go to Auger) and will be a short that’s not easily forgotten – not by me anyway!