Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Foreign
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner
Based on the play "The Boy in the Last Row" by Juan Mayorga
Written & Directed by Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, Potiche)
As thrillers go, In the House (opening today) isn't all that thrilling. But it does take a mind-bending premise and weaves a pretty compelling story that should keep the audience in its seat - although maybe not on the edge of it - for the duration.
The story revolves around a French high school teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who has grown pessimistic about the world's future, judging by the strengths of its future inhabitants (re: his students).
When grumpily grading papers one night, a writing assignment from a shy student, Clause Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), catches his eye. This kid has some real talent, a notion agreed upon by Germain's wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, whose presence in any film - foreign or not - is the primary reason for a film's release state-side).
What happens next is quite unexpected. When Germain takes an interest in fostering Claude's writing, Claude begins using each classroom assignment to tell the story of a family that he has somehow infiltrated. In his story, Claude befriends Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) to tutor the fellow student in math. He does this as a means to gain access to Rapha's supposed perfect family nucleus - to get "in the house" - so that he can get closer to Rapha's mother, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner).
Is this a work of fiction or is this based on Claude's personal experiences? Either way, as written, it is hardly content acceptable for a teen to be writing about, let alone under the guidance of a faculty member. Germain becomes obsessed with Claude's words to the point that the two begin to deconstruct some of these "characters," even well beyond the point where Germain and his wife actually begin to pop up in Claude's writings.
There is a clever self-awareness to In the House, as this literary professor schools Claude on the dos and don'ts of what is "good" writing. First you have to keep the reader guessing. You must also ask the reader the primary question: What will happen? And then keep them engaged in thinking about this question throughout the work. All of these and more, are good writing tips and also act as the framework in which In the House as a film, chooses to structure itself.
There are also some sly observations made in regards to the student-teacher relationship, adolescence and the manipulative power of literary narrative. All of this bundled into a perverse mystery, where we are truly curious as to what is up with young Claude, where this story is headed and just how exactly will it end.
In literary terms, this is the equivalent of a juicy, trashy tabloid. In the House revels in voyeurism and gossip and for the most part works quite well. But in exposing all of the tricks of writing, it exposes itself also to its trappings.
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