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Survival and Social Commentary in Just Philippot’s “Acid” | Review

Just Philippot’s film on acid rain devastating France is a nightmare of our time: it knows well that today’s climate is the real horror movie.
Acid (2023)

MOVIE REVIEWS

Acid (2023)
Original title: Acide
Directed by Just Philippot

They used to call it eco-vengeance: horror films where Nature rebels against man, retaliating for the humiliations inflicted on it. Examples include Frogs, George McCowan’s 1972 forgotten cult classic about a rebellion of killer frogs. Today things have changed, in the sense that there is a new climate apocalypse not in the making, but already underway; just watch any news broadcast or feel the temperature of our cities to verify the disaster. This is why Acid, Just Philippot’s film presented out of competition at Cannes 2023 and in theaters from July 4 with Notorius Pictures, is particularly unsettling. It stages acid rain that is not so far-fetched, sounding more like a step away from the present.

We are in France during a severe heatwave. Initially, however, there is a deviation: we witness a harsh workers’ protest culminating in a crackdown, leaving the protagonist Michal (Guillaume Canet) with an electronic ankle bracelet, effectively under house arrest. Thus, the narrative smartly connects the labor crisis to the climate crisis, suggesting that today’s dark clouds are all intertwined, the links of collective tragedy are fused together. Then we move to the true core of the story. Michael is a divorced man with a fifteen-year-old daughter, Selma (Patience Munchenbach), and a difficult relationship with his ex-wife Elise (Laetitia Dosch), while trying to build a new love with a woman now in the hospital. The television broadcasts grim warnings: a dark cloud is approaching the French territory and could bring deadly acid rain.

Between skepticism and fears, the event actually occurs: it starts to rain. Thus begins the family’s escape, or rather the dysfunctional unit’s escape, with Michael retrieving his distant daughter and reuniting with his former wife, called to resolve conflicts to try to survive. The three, locked in a warehouse, face their survival. And then there’s the “monster,” that is, the acid rain, the corrosive water: it is presented to us in an impressive sequence with the first heavy downpour, whose victims are animals and homeless people unable to find shelter. Even the massacre is a matter of species and class. Drop by drop, the French soil is gradually eroded in a nemesis that represents the end of civilization. After all, Just Philippot, a forty-year-old Frenchman, director of his time, was already clear in his previous film The Swarm, where locusts refused to be the food of tomorrow, forming a vampiric swarm. Acid is a further step.

The unit continues its movement to avoid death, but it’s hard to escape a weather event, even worse than Hitchcock’s birds: nothing can be done against the rain. One should have thought of this earlier. The direction organizes the narrative with a great sense of rhythm, thanks also to Rob’s music, and over ninety minutes unfolds a gripping thriller, which in its narrative twists is particularly harsh and ruthless, given the severity of the situation. The development finally slips too much into familial themes, albeit dysfunctional, losing sight of the pure horror at its core in favor of a somewhat predictable emotional dynamic. But even so, Acid arrives strong and aware: it knows well that today’s climate is the real horror movie.

Emanuele Di Nicola

Cinematografo, July 3, 2024

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