Terence Stamp’s nameless visitor in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem (Teorema, 1968), and Aaron Smith in The Righteous (O’Brien, 2021), both nurture humankind’s age-old suspicion toward the arrival of the stranger. The title of Belgian director Fabrice du Welz’s Inexorable (2021) means relentless. It’s a fitting title because the characters in these stories are all relentless in their agenda, and Du Welz’s antagonist Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) is as manipulative and disruptive as her male counterparts.
We revel in the pleasure of witnessing the predatory stranger manipulate and take root in a story. Such characters pique our curiosity. Why? Perhaps because they satisfy our lust for destruction and feed our crueler instincts – they open the pandora’s box within each of us that we struggle to keep the lid on.
Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey) and her husband Marcel Bellmer (Benoît Poelvoorde), have just moved into her childhood family mansion with their daughter Lucie (Janaina Halloy). Marcel is struggling to find inspiration for his follow-up novel to his bestseller Inexorable, which was edited by Jeanne and published by her father. Working out of his late father-in-law’s office, Marcel’s fortune as a writer is inextricably linked to his family. Upon her arrival, Gloria quickly manipulates her way into their employment, and her mysterious interest in Marcel’s work exposes secrets that will push the family to breaking point.
Similar to The Shining (Kubrick, 1980), there’s an appeal to the energy of a large and old space that the story feeds off. Unlike The Overlook Hotel whose past is integral to The Shinning‘s story, Jeanne’s family mansion is a subtle, but necessary dramatic stage.
Set away from the small town, the separation fosters a feeling of vulnerability. The large space also allows du Welz and his director of photography, Manuel Dacosse, to be playful with the cinematography. They misrepresent characters’ movements, and in one scene Gloria has no weight as if she were floating.
In other moments the camera spirals downwards or upwards, giving us the impression that we’re burrowing deeper into the impending chaos. This is complemented by the periodic red lighting that heightens the suspense, conveying the collective destructive rage that is simmering beneath the surface. The attention to the visual aesthetic provides the film with a presence that attracts and holds our gaze.
The house is a spatial pressure for Marcel, that keeps both his past success and the spiritual connection with the publisher that championed Inexorable alive. It has subtle shades of the ghost story, in the form of the expectations of his wife and father-in-law for a second novel. Marcel tells the interviewer from a local newspaper, “You do not write to please. You write out of necessity.” As we come to discover, necessity has a nuanced and troubling meaning.
Inexorable rides the suspense and the emotional highs and lows of its characters. An effective thriller, it holds our interest with the “why” things are happening as they are, and accesses our knowledge of genre cinema to understand or anticipate the reveal. It speaks to the themes of obsession, truth, and vulnerability. One of the ideas that du Welz and his co-writers Joséphine Darcy Hopkins and Aurélien Molas subtly sneak into the story, is the artist’s vulnerability to the response of their work.
That anxiety nestles itself there and remains undeveloped. The storytellers make the choice to craft a lean suspenseful thriller. They avoid pulling at thematic threads, including the relationship between Marcel and Gloria and how it relates to his and Jeanne’s history and their sexual relationship. At the heart of the story is an intriguing power balance, and one suspects that Gloria exposes a dominant behaviour in Jeanne that her husband finds unattractive, hence the aggressive struggle for sexual dominance in their lovemaking. The necessity to write has reduced Marcel’s power in the relationship to a pretence. He’s not dissimilar to a character in a book, his presence a fiction.
Gloria becomes a symbol of conscience and retaliation against repressed truth. This is not, however, who she actually is in the story as we experience it – she has an agenda – but it’s how we can understand her in hindsight. Processing what we have seen, we pull at the threads du Welz, Hopkins, and Molas leave alone. How a story is received can transform these threads from serving a narrative purpose to being a metaphorical and thematic expression of ideas.
A common thread in stories like Inexorable is how affection is manipulated and misplaced. In The Righteous, the stranger offers the grieving mother a means to fill the void of her parental love, while in Theorem the family allows themselves to be manipulated. These are stories about how we see what we want to see, and how our natures make us susceptible to manipulation.
Du Welz doesn’t like to tell his audience what to think. Instead, he prefers that viewers decide what the film means for them. The attitude towards his audience’s independence is woven into the fabric of the film. Inexorable moves along at a brisk and satisfying pace, omitting some narrative development to instead invite the audience to collaborate and develop the story for themselves.