Just Philippot made himself noticed with his first film, psychological bug horror The Swarm, a film whose impact was sadly dimmed because of its release in the middle of the pandemic when cinemas was closed which meant it went straight on streamers. It did get selected for the online edition of Gerardmer in 2021 and being acquired by Netflix meant it was not completely ignored. The French director is back with another genre film and this time with a starrier cast and under the spotlight of the Cannes official selection as one of the midnight screenings. Acide is the expansion of a short film Just Philippot made a few years ago and has such a great, gnarly premise, one has to wonder how it has not been used before: acid rain! The film takes pain to give it a hint of plausibility which makes it even more terrifying with the PH level of rains being affected due to climate change. It is a shame then that the director does so little with it.
Acide at at once more ambitious yet less successful than The Swarm, which is baffling. Just like with his previous film, the director weaves him a psychological element and goes for a character-driven narrative about a family in his new one. Yet what was so subtle, affecting and chilling in his previous film here feels heavy-handed and uninvolving. It does not help that Guillaume Canes in the lead yet again shows what a terrible actor he is, not one of his scenes rings true. As a divorced working class father it appears Just Philippot was inspired by the character Tom Cruise plays in War of the World yet here the part goes from embarrassing to laughable.
Talking about the Spielberg film, the director also goes for a more spectacular approach with a lack of sufficient budget coupled with an uninspired direction only generates some mild boredom. Worse, he never quite delivers the properly disturbing scenes the premise is sold as apart from a scene on a slowly collapsing and with a character meeting a grisly demise and even that does not quite pack the punch it is meant to. He even robs us from the clearly signposted comeuppance of some bullies with a lead up to it that simply does not have the expected scene.
While French genre cinema has often delivered the goods over the last few years (and has proven to be able to with The Animal Kingdom that opened Un Certain Regard last week), Acide is a disappointing sophomore effort from a promising director. Let's hope Just Philippot finds his inspiration again!
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆
Official Selection, Out of Competition.
Acide. France 2023. Directed by Just Philippot. Starring Guillaume Canet, Laetitia Dosch...