Slow-burn horror films get mixed responses almost every time one is released and recently, The Witch (2015) was a good example of how well it can be done. Daguerrotype, whilst not in the same class, can be put under the same category and it almost succeeds, falling slightly short due to a messy screenplay.
We are introduced to Jean (Tahar Rahim), a young man who has no real direction in life and takes odd jobs to get by. His newest venture is working as an assistant to the reclusive photographer Stephane (Olivier Gourmet), who lives in an old mansion. The methods he employs in the job are noticed immediately by Jean as he uses the old fashioned way of taking photos by having the model pose for up to a number of hours at a time whilst the daguerrotype (aka photo) is being taken. With work drying up, Stephane uses his young daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau) as a model with whom Jean slowly develops a relationship with.
In between these proceeds, the ghost of Stephane’s wife makes several appearances and it’s here where the film succeeds the most. Sans any kind of cheap jump scares, she simply appears ever so casually yet renders an air of uneasiness that will send chills up the spine of even the hardest of horror fans. One particular scene towards the end in a greenhouse is so realistically played out it feels as though you are the one being haunted.
It’s a shame because director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (yes, a Japanese director making a French film) really knows how to put his audiences on edge, yet his muddled and somewhat predictable screenplay overshadows what the film does best.
The acting is passable enough with Tahar Rahim as Jean convincingly pulling off his character’s true intentions of taking advantage of Stephane’s hidden fortune, yet caring for Marie and her desire to leave and start her own life. Olivier Gourmet as Stephane does well, especially with the scenes involving his dead wife.
Whilst there are far better horror movies out at the moment, if you’re looking for something a little more beyond blood, sweat and tears, then Daguerrotype will subtly creep up on you when you least expect it, provided you have the patience to see it through to a somewhat predictable twist ending. However the greenhouse scene is worth the price of admission alone.
Daguerrotype is screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival and you can book tickets here.