French provocateur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) lends dashes of psychosexual anxiety, classism and feminist uplift to this airy remake of the musty old bedtime thriller, though a good dose of surprise and adrenaline might've helped.
Quietly rebellious budding beauties Anne (Daphne Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton) are recalled from their stern Catholic boarding school when their father is accidentally killed — and the tuition bill comes due. Without an estate or a dowry, the girl's prospects are bleak, till word ripples through their 16th century village that a nearby nobleman is searching for a bride.
He is Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), an inscrutable, bulky old devil who sulks about his grand old haunted castle, subject to nagging rumors that ladies who enter his domain have a habit of never returning. Still, he's rather wealthy, and even in quaint nursery stories the maxim holds: Chicks dig a bad boy. Marie Catherine beats out her fairer, strawberry-haired older sister for the lord's affections, and he's surprisingly gentle, until of course he inevitably starts brandishing a cutlass to her throat.
All of this action is cut with a framing device that Rob Reiner might blush at, as two precocious 1950s girls read the story to each other from a dusty tome found in the attic, while comedically bickering.
In Beillat's hands even this sweet domesticity comes with a sinister price, as we sense the players are as hapless as the goose slaughtered onscreen, still twitching and bleeding after the danger has struck. The evils of sibling rivalry and thoughtless desire are made real by the performers, even as the production's rough edges and sleepy pace work against them. It's an interesting enough spin on a well-worn fable, especially if you like your fairytales the old-fashioned way, lyrical and just a wee bit gruesome.
Opens Friday, April 30 at the Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-473-9238) and runs for two weeks. See burtontheatre.com for showtimes.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].