Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz mines that ever-ripe source of plot material, the missing child, in this psychological horror. Vinyan takes its name from a Thai term for a lost, angry spirit, and its inspiration from 1976 Spanish horror Who Can Kill a Child? along with more predictable sources such as Don’t Look Now.
Jeanne (Béart) and Paul Belhmer (Sewell) lost their young son in the South-East Asian tsunami. A blurred figure in documentary footage of Burmese orphans convinces her that he’s still alive and has been kidnapped by human traffickers. On the Thai-Burmese border, the desperate couple bribe gangster Thaksin Gao (Osanthanugrah) to help with their search. Deep in desolate jungle, they encounter a tribe of terrifying children.
One of Vinyan’s most memorable, harrowing shots depicts a group of laughing children throwing stones at a man’s inert body. In another, traffickers offer a young boy to the couple and desperate, grieving Jeanne believes he’s actually her son. Handheld camera-work helps build an atmosphere of dread, assisted by sparse, careful use of audio, while the jungle footage is both lush and menacing. Technically, the film shines. Its depiction of a couple driven to desperation is also effective, which is largely down to a consumate performance from Béart, but there’s too much that jars.
Caught between its attempts to be a ghost story and an emotional drama, Vinyan masters neither. As it moves from civilisation to wilderness to spirit world, it sacrifices substance and emotional resonance for obvious effect. Internet buzz pegged Vinyan as an extreme horror, but in reality it’s an initially strong study of grief that gives way to cheap thrills.