Brothers Kenneth and Dave face a rocky reunion when the former is released after a four-year sentence for a crime they both committed. A lot has changed while he was inside, including Dave hooking up with Kenneth’s ex-girlfriend Sylvie and the pair going teetotal in an attempt to set their life of crime on the straight and narrow.
Belgian writer/director Robin Pront’s debut is a film of two parts, beginning as a coarse kitchen sink drama, before evolving into a tense cabin-in-the-woods thriller. Initially set in the dreary suburbs of Antwerp, Kenneth’s enthusiastic return to ‘real life’ is as unpredictable as a puppy let loose in a showroom, jarring with Dave’s new, carefully structured lifestyle.
The conflicting dynamic takes the weight off a slow-paced first half, aided considerably by the tension around when - and not if - Kenneth finds out about his brother’s new relationship, holding Pront’s desaturated world together. Annoyingly, it dwells on the domestic too long, losing momentum and creating a lot of ground to make up when the location switches to more rural territory. Once in the foresty seclusion of the Ardennes, however, the film really gets going, dishing out gruesome surprises as the pressure cooker boils over.
While The Ardennes offers little real originality (bar some surprising ostrich cameos) and the soundtrack is grinding at times, the film’s bleak, Coen-esque sense of isolation, cold brutality and clutch of confident performances (Kevin Janssens is beautifully wild as the recently released Kenny) make for a decent and engaging story that culminates in an enjoyably nasty conclusion.
Don’t expect the Dardennes, and The Ardennes won’t disappoint.