A fast-paced and tense police thriller, Hans Herbots’ The Treatment plumbs the murky depths of child abuse and male impotence.
Deadlier Than The Maleby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Adapted from the bestseller by British crime writer Mo Hayder and transplanted to Belgium, Hans Herbots’ The Treatment still bears a peculiarly British obsession with paedophilia. The second in Hayder’s series after Birdman featuring Detective Jack Caffery (who here becomes Nick Cafmeyer), it’s a step beyond the mutilated female bodies of her debut novel as The Treatment uncovers a series of family kidnappings, where the mother is locked away while the father is forced by an unknown intruder to sodomise their son. It’s a gruesome premise that recalls David Fincher’s Se7en in both its intricate plotting and noirish style, while exposing the simplistic brutality of a male-centred world.
Living at his parents’ home, Detective Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg) is keeping the home fires burning, ever hopeful – despite the taunts from convicted paedophile Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche) – that one day his brother Bjorn who was abducted over twenty years ago might return. But when a crime scene is uncovered, with walls daubed with blood and piss, a traumatised mother and father held hostage and a kidnapper disappearing into the words with a nine-year-old boy, it’s all a little too close for comfort for Nick’s boss Danni (Ina Geerts). Uncovering an old paedophile ring through VHS tapes when Plettinckx sends him a treasure map, Nick begins to piece it together, coming dangerously close to finding a new family held hostage, the killer and his brother.
Contriving scenarios in which mothers are locked away and kept under control (with daily deposits of fresh urine to keep powerful oestrogens at bay), and in which fathers are forced to abuse their own sons, The Treatment sees its crimes through the mind of its villain as a “treatment” for an impotence-induced sadism and a revenge against female hormones. But with its source novel written by a woman and the film directed by a man, there’s a peculiar charge to the film’s sexual politics – as the mother scratches through the bedroom floor to keep a watchful eye over her husband, while men are doubly victimised – forced into abusing their own flesh and blood and later hated by their wives for complying. Men are victims, perpetrators and heroes – here in the shape of Nick, barely holding it together after the recent taunts from his brother’s kidnapper – but he’s the only one impassioned (or obsessed) enough to face the dirty truth and expose it.
Of course women aren’t guiltless either – especially with the character of Nancy Lammers – an old hag who keeps the paedophile ring’s secret, but as it turns out she’s more than a collaborator in their abuse, she’s also a mother – the only one who cares for Nick’s abandoned brother Bjorn. But the fairer sex’s greatest guilt perhaps comes in the crackpot charge levelled against them by the avenging hell’s angel – capable through their very chemical composition of provoking male impotence. But for the most part, the female characters in The Treatment remain one-dimensional – from police boss Danni to the victim’s mothers – women who observe men, reduced to spectres in a universe of male agency.
Moody, stylish and gripping, Hans Herbots’ The Treatment is an accomplished thriller, piecing together 21st century anxieties into a taut Scandinavian-style man-hunt. And it’s perhaps because of the success of series such as The Killing or The Bridge that De Behandeling feels out of place in the feature film format – without the luxury of ten episodes to devote to characterisation, suspense and police process. Instead, it’s a rather ghoulish take on modern-day bogeymen, as paedophiles jump out of the shadows like skeletons on a fairground ride. But while Hans Herbots’ The Treatment might not warm to its desperate picture of mankind, it still has chills in spades.
The Treatment is released on 21st August 2015 in the UK