Director Patricia Mazuy begins her latest film, Saturn Bowling (2023), with a distinctive sense of unease. We follow Armand (Achille Reggiani), a jobless bloke constantly loitering around. But he is watchful and alert, carefully observing women who palpably own the spaces they inhabit and move through. On the other hand, Armand is more consigned to the periphery and nevertheless evinces a discernible near-hunger to be understood, needed, and loved. He sneaks into his ex’s car, requesting her to let him sleep in it. We learn his father has passed away and gauge the disorientation might be due to the acute devastation. He is like a drifting wreck who gets a lease of life when his half-brother, Guillaume (Arieh Worthalter), suggests he can run the bowling alley place their father bequeathed to Guillaume.

Armand, the ‘bastard son,’ was left nothing.  Their father ensured his two sons didn’t get to properly bond. In the interactions between Guillame and Armand, we sense the uptight-ness and lack of consolation either would have provided for the other in such circumstances. There is an emotional distance, though neither of the two is actively hostile to the other. They just prefer keeping out of the other’s way.  But Guillame’s kind gesture brings Armand into proximity with unfathomable consequences.

As a filmmaker, Mazuy is interested in building a creeping sense of discomfort, and the initial stretches of the film are particularly excellent in drawing this tension with unrelenting intensity. There is a subtle but persistent atmosphere of foreboding before she lets things slide over to a grotesquely gratuitous scene. Mazuy goes all out in the particular scene, not holding back, and Reggiani commits to this terrifyingly.

Mazuy makes us see Armand for who he is, which feels punishing. Though the film is inclined towards depicting the streak of male monstrousness, it lacks a counterpoise in giving short shrift to women in the narrative. Women either get killed off, displayed as mutilated victims, or barely registering, thankless activists who Guillame is romantically entangled with.

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Saturn Bowling (2023) Movie Review
Leïla Muse and Achille Reggiani in Saturn Bowling (2023)

The violence also feels irresponsible and is ultimately flattened because the screenplay refuses to move beyond the hunter metaphor, the thread of which gets established as a connecting link between Armand’s father and him. We can gauge how much Armand would have pined for his father’s love and attention but was largely kept unacknowledged. The lovelessness only snowballed into cementing his persona that is steeped in vicious bursts of murderous, blinding rage. It has stunted his very emotional understanding. So, even when he is at the receiving end of some attention, his ultimate impulse gets geared to dominating the situation.

As we are left reeling from the force of the violence, Mazuy changes tacks in the second half, choosing to sidle over to the investigation led by Guillaume, who incidentally is a police officer. However, the proceedings become muted and sluggish, and the film starts moving in circles, unable to achieve any sort of dramatic momentum or etch its principal characters beyond what had already been amply hinted at.

The film turns less intriguing, and a sluggishness sets in. It gets immobilized by its own tendencies of taking the central metaphor of hunting way too far, hammering it at us beyond a tolerable degree. The psychological repression that finds its utterance through the predatory acts surfaces in only the contorted growls of Reggiani. Worthalter has even less to work on, stuck on a listless track. The film situates the brothers circling each other in a psychologically complex game of sorts, with suspicion and wariness dripping through. Mazuy packs their scenes together with palpable frissons, acing the teetering moodiness.

However, the film does not utilize much of this interpersonal friction, failing to develop its characters. There are snatches of rivetingly realized scenes that demonstrate great promise. Watch how Armand curiously and passionately peers at the various animal exhibits in the apartment that his father once occupied, where he presently lives. However, the screenplay stretches the parallel a tad too much, and the entire angle on the father’s hunter friends who use the manner of acquaintance to freeload is consistently dull.

At its heart, the film zooms in on damaged men, stripped of love, performing brutality as a language with which they feel their sense of existence verified and upheld. It stumbles in, taking us deeper once it starts unpeeling the constructs. Therefore, the rottenness fades away, revealing mere fragments of scenes designed to elicit shock and a gasp. Neither the perpetrator nor the investigators’ lives come through in broad strokes, quickly becoming a forgettable haze.

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Saturn Bowling (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Saturn Bowling (2023) Movie Cast: Arieh Worthalter, Achille Reggiani, Y-Lan Lucas
Saturn Bowling (2023) Movie Genre:  Mystery & thriller/Horror, Runtime: 1h 54m
Where to watch Saturn Bowling

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