BALLET BLANC ** USA 2019 Dir: Anne-Sophie Dutoit. 89 mins
Writer-director Anne-Sophie Dutoit’s film is an ambitious dialogue / character-driven three-hander, largely set in two rooms and employing multiple narrators via a unique framing device. The first voice we hear, disarmingly, is the throaty, Mercedes McCambridge-like cadence of Mrs Willis (Shelley Starrett), a witch-like woman who sees something special in young orphan Coco (Colter Carlborn-Mann), whose late mom was convinced of his destiny as a dancer in a performance of The Nutcracker. She keeps Coco in her home, playing on his emotional fragility in order to get him to perform tasks like drowning bunnies. With a further voiceover from Coco himself in a different time frame, the film unfolds in a town that hilariously named social worker / Pastor Wax Crevice (Brian Woods) believes to be the birthplace and stomping ground of the Antichrist himself.
There’s a compelling element of mystery and plenty of foreboding in the early stretches of BALLET BLANC, reinforced by the creepy, portentous OMEN-inspired score. Kudos to Dutoit for making an unfashionable low budget horror film that’s light on overt scares and viscera – and also for giving a child actor a substantial amount of the often-unwieldly dialogue. Alas, the abundance of talk does highlight the acting shortcomings, though Starrett is quite striking in the most intriguing role. The biggest problem is, unlike the key 70’s occult horror films from which this borrows, it’s dramatically inert and, ultimately, quite dull. It also has a silly final “shock” moment totally at odds with the tone of what has gone before. On the plus side, anyone planning to open a “back, sack and crack” beauty bar could do worse than choose “Wax Crevice” as the name of their business.
Review by Steven West