This Mystery-Drama from Quebec is an odd film, as it is difficult to sort it into a genre. While there is some gore in it, as well as some body-horror, I would not classify it as a horror film. La Peau Blanche has some amusing moments, but not many, nor has it a continuous comedic strain, so it could not be classified as a comedy-drama. There are also, strictly speaking, no vampires in this film, but more about that later.
Thierry is an introvert student who moved from the countryside to Montreal in order to attend university. But he does not seem satisfied with his studies, and even less with his prospects. He would love to be a writer, but knows that there is no chance of him making a living that way. He shares a flat with his friend Henri, who seems to have a more sunny and laissez-faire outlook on life.
When Thierry unexpectedly falls head-over-heels in love with the mysterious Claire, his life as well as the lives of those around him become consumed by an increasingly dark mystery surrounding Claire’s family.
This film – based on a novel by Joël Champetier – is often listed as a vampire film, including on imdb. But the word “vampire” is not used in this film; instead, succubus is used as a term of reference. Meanwhile, in the US, the DVD has been marketed under the title Cannibal. So, while little here seems really well-defined, only a few things are clear: the creatures in this story are not subject to conventional vampire lore (with regards to mirrors, etc.); but they have no real connection to conventional succubus lore either. What they remind me most of are the creatures in The Hamiltons / The Thompsons, and also Vampyrer, so you could argue that La Peau Blanche, like those three, represents a modern take on vampirism.
There is little to say about the story itself. There is not much of a plot, with a lot of time being devoted to portraying Thierry and Claire’s complicated relationship. But it is not much of a character study either, since the character of Claire has to remain mysterious while the character of Thierry is (by design) not all that interesting in the first place.
La Peau Blanche’s strength is its creation of atmosphere. Director Daniel Roby opts not to use any traditional Gothic atmosphere, but mixes the freezing and dark Montreal winter with the depressed and dull vibe that surrounds Thierry and the cold anonymity of the university, a hospital, and a subway station. Regarding the latter aspect, it is quite telling that in terms of colours, coldness and negative depressed vibes there is little to no difference between subway and university. A slow pace and minimalist plot are adding to the depressed atmosphere
Out of all these ingredients, Roby creates a fitting atmosphere for his mystery-drama. An atmosphere that is not Gothic, and barely even a horror atmosphere, but which instead lays the emphasis on loneliness and desperation. Once more, I am reminded of the Swedish film Vampyrer which uses a similar atmosphere.
As far as themes are concerned, the film suffers a bit from playing with racism without really using the topic or dealing with it properly. Racial issues are being thrown around, but the topic leads nowhere, feeling almost like an afterthought. It is no help that the film portrays a weird form of “gingerism” , which leads to a muddled conflation with the racial issues and weakens them further. It seems to me that none of this was needed in this film, and it is rather distracting.
The acting in this film is generally very good. Marc Paquet has a difficult job as the male lead, because Thierry is a bit of a bore. But while this is not a role that allows an actor to shine, there are wordless solo scenes in which Paquet is able to demonstrate his talent.
Marianne Farley delivers a very strong performance as Claire, as does Frédéric Pierre in the slightly less challenging role of Henri. All other characters in the film are little more than minor supporting roles. So while there are strong performances there as well (including Julie LeBreton, Jessica Harris, Anna Beaupré Moulounda), the actors have little room to showcase their talent.
I would rate La Peau Blanche at about 6.5 to 7.0 out of 10. But it is not a must-see film and it is difficult to recommend it, as it is difficult to predict what kind of audience might enjoy it.
Still, concept and atmosphere are interesting enough, so anyone curious to see something that slightly deviates from the mainstream might want to check it out. In its novelty La Peau Blanche is similar to Vampyrer, but compared to its Swedish counterpart feels more “complete”, more like a finished film.