Directed by Alice Winocour
Opens August 12
It’s no mere coincidence that the protagonist of Disorder, a nerve-jangling French-language thriller about a soldier coming home from Afghanistan, has the all-caps word “CHAOS” emblazoned on his right arm. Once upon a time, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) must’ve intended the tattoo as a devil-may-care maxim, but now it scans as a sign of the sensory overload he’s prone to. Ringing phones, slamming doors, and overheard voices are just a few of the everyday occurrences liable to send the PTSD sufferer into full-on fight-or-flight panic—a state that’s only further heightened once he goes to work as a bodyguard at the estate of a well-connected Lebanese man named Imad Whalid (Percy Kemp), who may or may not be up to no good.
A thriller that has much less interest in broad-stroke action than it does in teasing out all the little external stimuli that stoke paranoia, the mostly impressive Disorder hews closely to Vincent’s perspective throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime, putting viewers on high alert by placing them deep within his hair-trigger headspace. On this front, director Alice Winocour (who previously made the period drama Augustine, and co-wrote last year’s arthouse hit Mustang) has made a genuine contribution to the cinema of subjectivity. During a phenomenally staged sequence early in the film, Vincent does the security rounds at a lavish party of politicians and shady hangers-on, peering around corners and through windows and wincing at every white-noise crackle that comes through his earpiece. In a discomfiting scene later on—after Whalid hires Vincent to protect his wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and son, Ali (Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant), while he’s away on business—Vincent becomes convinced a black car is tailing him; a tinnitus-like ringing takes over the soundtrack as he slams on the accelerator and threads through traffic in order to lose the vehicle, taking backseat passengers Jessie and Ali along for the dangerous ride.
Is Vincent merely that most conscientious kind of unreliable narrator, a man who reads too much into what he sees (instead of too little), or is he indeed on to something here? Disorder—which Winocour also wrote, in collaboration with Jean-Stéphane Bron—eventually makes clear that the latter is the case, though the exact nature of the threat remains teasingly vague. If the film is sensitive to the way its protagonist processes the world, the interactions between the characters are not always so well drawn, especially as it enters its house-bound home stretch—key to the drama at this point is a subterranean “chemistry” between Vincent and Jessie (and thus Schoenaerts and Kruger) that simply isn’t on-screen.
As a genre experiment, though, the film doesn’t stop evolving. As it nears its end, Disorder comes to resemble a horror movie as much as anything else—an on-guard Vincent tries to lock down the sprawling home against intruders, while in his downtime he scours feeds of the grounds’ security cameras, screens filled with what looks like found footage on the verge of a gory event. But perhaps the scariest thing of all here has nothing to do with external dangers. It is, instead, the realization that Vincent has become something of a suspense-movie character in his own life—a hostage to the chaos of his own high-alert nerves, unable to find a moment’s peace between one spiking fear and the next.