On its surface, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001) is a vampire movie. It fuses the vampire’s predatory lust for blood with its sexual desire for its victims. At the same time, a difference from the classic vampire film (which is deliberately yet ironically mocked in one scene) is at this level of the story. The ‘vampires’ of this movie are both sexual predators and cannibals.
Another similarity to the traditional monster movie is the role of ‘mad science’ in the creation of its monsters. But ‘mad science’ here is not an alternative, disreputable version of acceptable, mainstream research. The scientists are legit but have gone mad. Their ‘insanity’ consists of their crossing of the boundaries of acceptable scientific work.
This transgression makes them “sick” according to one of the film’s two monsters. American pharma researcher Dr. Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) spends most of his honeymoon in Paris not with his bride, June (Tricia Vessey), but instead looking for his former colleagues. He hopes to enlist their help in reversing his self-inflicted, monstrous transformation. At the same time, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), the wife of Shane’s former French colleague Léo (Alex Descas), has been seducing victims on the outskirts of the city. She does so despite Leo’s attempts to contain her in their home while searching for a cure in his basement laboratory.
The viewer has to do some work to piece together this story. Denis’ elliptical style of filmmaking allows her to avoid traditional cinematic exposition. Her sparse use of dialogue also enables this break from traditional Hollywood horror storytelling. Instead, images and sound other than words carry this weight. The result is a visual and sonic fusion of sex and violence. The resulting montage has an almost fantastic quality that disarms the spectator.
Although there are occasional establishing long shots, most of the time the camera (guided by DP Agnès Godard) lingers on details of scenes. Particularly effective are the many close-ups of the grotesque and abject, such as the human brains under study in labs or blood and gore in the monster attack sequences. These are jarring enough in their own right. Denis’ use of the jump cut between banal scenes of normality and shocking scenes of the ‘abnormal’ increase the viewer’s unease. An apt example is her cut from Shane and June on their flight to France to Shane’s gory fantasy (or nightmare) of attacking her.
While Trouble Every Day forces the viewer to confront such images, it also has a distancing effect. While its mix of sexuality and violence is meant to shock, its almost clinical detachment at other times alienates the viewer. The end result is to create an amoral world from which there is no way out — both for characters within the film and for spectators in the audience.