The Treatment (De Behandeling)
Belgium (2014) Dir. Hans Herbots
Geographically Belgium might be just outside of Scandinavia but is this grisly crime thriller has all the constituent elements and feel of the output from the Nordic Noir movement, with a touch of Gallic grittiness courtesy of director Hans Herbots’s helming of episodes of the superb French TV drama Spiral. Yet this film is based on the novel by British writer Mo Hayder!
Relocating the story to Belgium, we meet Detective Inspector Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg) on call to investigate an attack on the Simons family which saw the young son Robin (Stan Puynen) be abducted. For Cafmeyer this case cuts deeply as his forever haunted by the unresolved abduction of his own younger brother Bjorn (Roy Aernouts) by a paedophile when Cafmeyer was nine.
Therefore Cafmeyer is convinced that this new predator nicknamed The Troll is part of an underground ring of paedophiles responsible for Bjorn’s disappearance. Briefly questioned then released at the time was known sex offender Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche) who has harassed Cafmeyer ever since. Cafmeyer’s tries to tie Plettinckx to The Troll but circumstances for the investigation to take an unexpected turn.
The Treatment is dark. Very dark but not necessarily in a good way in that one wonders how and why someone could conceive such vividly upsetting ideas in the name of entertainment. Perhaps being married to a retired police sergeant has it perks and author Mo Hayder is privy some juicy stories from her husband’s surface which serve as inspiration for her works.
Paedophilia and child abuse aren’t easy subjects to adapt for a fictional account and will never result in an easy experience for a reader or viewer, and while I haven’t read Hayder’s novel this film adaptation hits the audience with some uncomfortable and shocking imagery – never explicit but enough is shown to let our imaginations to do the rest and fear the worst.
What is shown is via brief and distant glances of footage from a batch of long buried video tapes Cafmeyer learns the existence of from an unexpected source. He himself cannot contain his dismay and upset at the contents but as a policeman he has to subject himself to this hideous, wanton and depraved cruelty to uncover some clues to further his investigation.
But which time is Cafmeyer trying to solve – the abduction of Robin Simons or Bjorn’s? It’s a bit of both with one hoping to lead to the closure of the other, compromising Cafmeyer’s professionalism in the process. His beleaguered superior Danni (Ina Geerts) is equally concerned as to where his head is, her sticking to the case in hand often throwing a spanner or two into his extracurricular investigation with devastating consequences.
Neither case is as straightforward as you might expect, with Bjorn’s throwing up a few surprises and, validating Cafmeyer’s hunch, involving some cross over in the Simons case. When Robin’s body is found with bite marks on his shoulder, his father Alex (Tibo Vandenborre) becomes a prime suspect, along with Robin’s swimming teacher, the drippy looking and nervy Chris Gommaer (Michael Vergauwen). But unbeknownst to the preoccupied police, The Troll is striking again right under their noses.
At the risk of unfairly redacting the twisting and involved story one could summarise this film as a series of The Killing or The Bridge condensed into 130 intense and unnerving minutes. Despite this we get a good feel for the character of Cafmeyer and the strain of the memories and guilt of his brother’s abduction haunting him as the investigation progresses. The procedural aspects are well represented and with more time could have featured a little more but this is cleverly remedied by having Cafmeyer’s on site snooping yielding key results.
The misdirection of the many possible and plausible suspects is a permanent fixture in any good crime story and this is no different, the revelations from each adding further fuel to the fire while making a colossal disturbing impact to the abusers actions. The powers of observation and deduction of the audience is also tested, and one finds themselves playing along whether they intend to or not.
A wonderfully efficacious tool in keeping the nail biting tension up, we find ourselves tempted to scream at the screen as Cafmeyer dances around the obvious which we already know is happening elsewhere. Herbots’s experience on Spiral is reflected in his direction here, with the fast pace, tightly cut action and use of silence to create an eerie atmosphere.
The imagery and photography is gorgeously sharp and the camerawork is crucial to creating some suitably claustrophobic and horrific moments, along with the crisp sound which makes even the slightest breath sound takes on a sinister meaning. Yet, the high-level production values do not rob the film of the requisite earthy quality and quiet menace which keep things grounded.
Kudos, and to some extent sympathy, goes to the superb cast who deliver convincing and credible performances on all counts, especially those on the wrong side of the law. It can’t be easy, especially if they have families of their own, to play such evil and depraved characters. Perhaps the most chilling is Johan van Assche as Plettinckx and for sheer cold-blooded indifference Ingrid De Vos as the paedophiles’ accomplice Nancy Lammers.
Carrying much of the emotional weight and thus the most screen time is Geert Van Rampelberg as Cafmeyer, deftly switching between determined cop and emotionally wounded victim. Van Rampelberg has the physical presence to be a hardnosed cop and look credible in the physical scenes yet his face is surprisingly emotive and able to convey pain, upset and raw distress.
Some of the audience will share Cafmeyer’s distress at what unfolds in The Treatment, such is the impact of this hard-hitting film. Definitely worthy of praise for its boldness, taut storytelling and top-notch presentation, recommending it is a different matter because of the raw subject.