Pandemonium, directed by Quarxx (All the Gods of Heaven (2018)) is a haunting exploration of life after death, guilt and the human condition. The film is set in a misty mountain landscape, where Nathan (Hugo Dillon) wakes up next to his overturned car, barely understanding that he has survived a fatal accident. His fellow traveler in the afterlife, Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj), reveals the grim truth: they're both dead and in a liminal space between heaven and hell.
The film's narrative is marked by denial and introspection. Nathan grapples with the consequences of his past actions, in particular a controversial murder he claims was an act of mercy. By confronting the gates of Heaven and Hell, both men accept their judgment and their fate. Quarxx depicts denial in greater depth, weaving together the stories of other souls in hell.
Pandemonium then takes the form of a triptych, delving into different tales of guilt and torment. The first story features Nina (Manon Maindivide), a malevolent young princess, and her monstrous companion, Tony (Carl Laforêt). The second recounts the anguish of Julia (Ophélia Kolb), a mother confronted with the suicide of her bullied daughter Chloé (Sidwell Weber). These stories reveal the various nuances of human suffering and denial, further accentuating the film's thematic depth.
The film's interpretation of hell is a striking amalgam of despair and surrealism. Quarxx masterfully blends dread and caustic humor, creating a dissonant yet captivating experience for the audience. Disturbing visual aesthetics and haunting music contribute to the nightmarish atmosphere, enhancing the impact of the stories' emotional resonance.
Pandemonium is inspired by literary and cinematic works exploring the afterlife, such as Dante's Inferno and Nakagawa's Jigoku. The film follows in the tradition of the catabasis, venturing into the dark spheres of the Underworld to confront the essence of the human spirit. The elliptical structure and episodic narratives contribute to a disconcerting and disorienting experience, echoing the randomness of life and death.
In its dark, grotesque comedy, Pandemonium boldly tackles the nature of existence, guilt and the quest for redemption. While the film paints a bleak picture of the eternal suffering of hell, it also hints at the possibility of redemption and the endurance of hope. The disturbing and unsettling aesthetic choices reinforce Quarxx's distinctive vision, offering an introspective and thought-provoking journey that lingers long after the credits roll.
Pandemonium transcends traditional cinematic storytelling, immersing its audience in a profound and unabashed exploration of human frailty, suffering and the limits of existence. It's a true experience that will leave an indelible mark on those who dare to confront its challenging and evocative narrative.
Written and directed by Quarxx
Produced by Isabelle Guenezan, Sandra Ianigro Martine Melloul
Starring Arben Bajraktaraj, Hugo Dillon, Ophélia Kolb, Carl Laforêt, Manon Maindivide, Jérôme Paquatte, Sidwell Weber
Music: Benjamin Leray
Cinematography: Didier Daubeach, Hugo Poisson, Colin Wandersman
Editing: Rémi Orth
Running time: 92 minutes
Viewed on 09 August 2023 (Frightfest press screener)