“You were in love with her?” “It’s not the right word for it.” In the ineffably melancholic opening minutes of Claire Denis’ misunderstood masterpiece, an unidentified couple necks in the backseat of a car, a man kisses his wife’s forearm on an overnight flight, and a woman in a black slip smiles invitingly at a passing lorry driver, only to soon after be found crouched in nearby grass, gnawing on his flesh.
In their languid, lurid procession, set to a brooding title track by Tindersticks, these early scenes announce Trouble Every Day as a film of unusual potency and macabre intrigue, one in which the Gothic and the Romantic commingle in strange, disturbing ways. Denis has always been a filmmaker attuned to primal desires and instincts, and her choice to work within a genre framework foreign to her for Trouble Every Day perhaps account for the film’s frightening ability to stay beneath one’s skin.
Often wordless, though passionately articulated through unshakable images of sensuality and horror, the film introduces its characters gradually. The man on the plane is Shane (Vincent Gallo), who has brought his bride, June (Tricia Vessey), to Paris for their honeymoon; the blood-smeared woman is Coré (Béatrice Dalle), whose husband Léo (Alex Descas) has little recourse to address her cannibalistic appetites other than to lock her up at home. How the two couples connect is eventually made clear, but Denis is less interested in narrative progress than a sustained mood of haunting, ravenous emotion.
“This is truly the best horror film of the 21st century,” writes Jamie Rebanal, praising the film’s uncanny atmosphere, while Kenji Fujishima describes it as “an alternately lyrical and brutal vision of desire as pure lust, with cannibalism envisioned as the end result of tossing off one’s inner humanity in favor of animal instinct. But then, isn’t that what sex essentially is, in some ways?”
An erotic romance that’s as graphic for its sequences of horrific violence, Trouble Every Day explores attraction and repulsion as forces of nature. Intimacy registers as something similar, a site of pleasure and pain at once exhilarating and impossible to control. In the film’s understanding of this, and in its evocation of the bloodlust shared between sex and violence, Trouble Every Day treats cannibalism as a transgressive allegory for some hidden, innermost, all-consuming hunger.