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The Night of the 12th

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Night of the 12th
Photograph: Fanny de Gouville

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Dominik Moll’s French procedural is a gripping true-crime thriller with a haunting message

‘Something’s amiss between men and women.’ This gloomy sentiment lands like a falling anvil in the final act of Dominik Moll’s compellingly thorny thriller. Adapted from a novel by French journalist Pauline Guéna, ‘18.3 – A Year With the Crime Squad’, and loosely based on the unsolved murder of a young woman, it subverts its own procedural elements to frame a single crime within a broader, more elemental context of misogyny and institutional bias. 

The murder itself comes almost immediately, and in harrowing fashion. A young woman called Clara (Lula Cotton-Frapier) says goodbye to her best friend Stéphanie (Pauline Serieys) and sets off across a deserted Alpine town. It’s dark and unbeknownst to her, someone is waiting en route. A day later, her body, left ghoulishly where she fell, is being photographed over by a police forensics team.

Yohan Vivés (Bastien Bouillon, providing the film’s brooding, taciturn centre) is the young head of Grenoble’s Criminal Squad who is charged with investigating the crime. The case will soon come to be a millstone; an entrée to a vampiric world of toxic men, female objectification and victim blaming that he must to wade through to find the killer.

The newly-appointed Vivés heads up a vaguely skeptical team rich in leather jackets and laddish banter, and the diligent detective leads by example rather than rousing pep talks. There are subtle fault lines at work here – in how these men view the female victim of a sexually-motivated murder – and cinematographer Patrick Ghiringhelli’s probing camerawork captures them astutely in close quarters. 

Vivés’s partner on the case, the world-weary Marceau (Bouli Lanners), is an outlier in visibly suffering from the ugliness he experiences daily. Vivés will come to be equally haunted by it. For some of their fellow cops, the sexually active Stéphanie was just asking for trouble.

Beneath its enthralling depiction of obsessive police work is a cry from the heart against a broken system

Writer-director Moll is a past master at re-engineering the thriller in unexpected ways, with 2000’s Hitchcockian treat Harry, He's Here to Help and 2019's puzzle-box thriller Only the Animals to his name. The Night of the 12th is a less tricksy affair, but no less gripping for it. There are even faint but striking echoes of George Sluizer's haunting psychological horror The Vanishing (always a good thing), another film that becomes slowly enveloped in a fog of mystery and opaque motivations.

But thanks to its pointed message about violence against women and injustice, this is a thriller with even sharper edges. Somewhere beneath its enthralling depiction of obsessive police work is a cry from the heart against a broken system. It’s best articulated by Nadia (Mouna Soualem), a new female recruit to Vivés’s squad: ‘Men kill and police are men,’ she notes. ‘Odd, isn’t it?’

In UK cinemas now.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Dominik Moll
  • Screenwriter:Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand
  • Cast:
    • Sylvain Baumann
    • Alexandre Ionescu
    • Bastien Bouillon
    • Bouli Lanners
    • Anouk Grinberg
    • Pierre Lottin
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