Released (if not reviewed) in time for Halloween - that time of year when we all try and put the willies up each other (ah yes, the old jokes are the best), Poltergay is a French horror comedy that tells the tale of a young couple, Marc and Emma, moving into an old ruin they intend to renovate, only to find it is haunted.
An over-familiar theme perhaps, but one with a new slant this time around - the ghosts are five gay men, all killed 30 years previously when the nightclub that previously occupied the spot went up in flames after a freak electrical accident.
The ghosts soon have their eye on young Marc and chaos ensues as the sounds of Boney M's Ra-Ra-Rasputin' disturb his sleep, and the ghosts, which seemingly only he can see, turn his life into a living hell.
It's not long before Marc has lost his wife, his job and seemingly his sanity, as those around him fail to understand what is going on. It's left to the ghosts to save the day and make up for their reprehensible behaviour, reuniting our hero with the long-suffering wife he's always loved in time for the final credits.
The Americans could learn a lot about making FUNNY comedy from Poltergay, particularly when it involves gay subject matter. Recent films such as I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry have been universally derided as 'offensive', but Poltergay manages to walk that very thin line between poking fun at and being offensive to gays, with an end result that all audiences, no matter what their sexual preference, should enjoy.
That it does so is partly down to the script - more clever than most reviewers have given it credit for, not least because it manages to tell a story of tolerance without ever coming across as preachy or being too full of propaganda. But even a good script can get wasted if the talent needed to deliver it isn't available, and the success of the film is mostly down to an excellent performance from lead actor Clovis Cornillac.
Cornillac is certainly easy on the eye - always essential if you want to pull in both 'the gays' AND the ladies that are needed for a 'date movie. It's hard, based on the evidence visible here, to believe the actor is in his 40's when he looks and plays the part of someone in their mid-20's so convincingly.
But it's Cornillac's comedic timing and good humour, rather than his looks, that raise this low budget farce above the norm - the man is clearly a leading actor of some talent, even when given somewhat difficult material to deliver. He carries the film through what in other hands would be some decidedly sticky patches (not that kind!), particularly with regard to plausability, as his character is forced to go through the gamut of emotions. Fear, anger, humour, dejection and pity are all realistically portrayed when he is abandoned by friends and family, who decide that the five 'flamboyantly dressed' imaginary men he keeps seeing are just a symptom of his repressed homosexual desire.
Cornillac is ably supported by an excellent cast, which include not just his poor put-upon wife Emma (Julie Depardieu), but also the couple's best friends - a married couple who clearly have problems of their own, not the least of which is the fact that the wife is a slut whose husband is totally oblivious to her antics, even when performed right under his nose. Worse, she's a slut that's determined to bed her husband's best friend - whether he wants to be bedded or not.
All the ingredients for a good farce are here, and as the film develops it quickly moves from its seemingly 'straight' horror opening, as the couple first move into their new home, into the more traditional realms of farce, with an increasing number of weird and wacky characters being introduced as the film progresses.
First of all there's the ghosts - a mixed bunch that include a 'closet heterosexual' who actually seems most interested in Marc's wife, despite the continual admonishments from his very effeminate partner, the graffiti artist who is obsessed with drawing pictures of an erect phallus at every available opportunity, and the sad lonely character who misses his partner 'Huggy' who survived the nightclub fire that has placed him in limbo.
But the camp 70's stereotypical ghosts aren't the sole source of the humour. Recurring characters are two policeman, called in when Marc finds the first crude sketching of a penis drawn on his walls and a Polaroid of his bare arse taken when he took a shower. They subsequently manage to catch our hero in more and more compromising-looking situations that the character has no control over. There's the psychiatrist who is convinced that Marc is just a closeted gay, persuading him to take a disastrous visit to a gay bar to discover his true sexuality; the father-in-law who's always disapproved and now has the evidence of the mental instability he'd always suspected; the psychic ghost hunter Marc calls in who seems more obsessed with MacDonald's than getting rid of ghosts, and a whole bunch of other minor characters that add to the humour as the film gains momentum and heads towards a nice, tidy feel-good ending.
Clearly, this is not a film for the 'torture porn' crowd. What's surprising is that although there is clearly a strong gay sub-text throughout, this is very much aimed at straight audiences. There are no gross-out gags, as there would be if this had been an American production, although there are one or two (and only one or two) four letter words, along with all those sketches of erect phalluses that one of the ghosts keeps drawing.
Picture quality of this anamorphic 16:9 widescreen presentation is extremely variable, although one suspects this is down to the low budget source material, rather than the transfer itself. With so much of the film taking place at night this was never going to be showcase picture quality, but noise is overly intrusive and the picture ridiculously murky at times.
Extra's are limited to a Making of, which is less a making of than an edited 'home video' recording of parts of the main shoot. The lack of subtitles (which may have been available through some menu option I missed) were a barrier to getting any kind of enjoyment out of this, other than recognising that the crew seemed to have fun making the film.
In a world of 'me too', unfunny, gross-out comedy movies, Poltergay is a good, if somewhat old-fashioned, gem. It's the ideal 'switch off the brain and have a few laughs' movie to watch after a hard day at the office. Recommended, even if it is in French!