It's The Exorcist meets Papillion in this French horror flick about the devil behind bars. Of course, "Hollywood shorthand" like that really debases the originality of this engrossing (and often gross) tale.
Taking a page from H.P. Lovecraft with a little Clive Barker thrown in, director Eric Valette shows us a book of forbidden knowledge. A book that cruelly holds the keys of freedom as it sits behind prison walls and sometimes hidden in the crevasses of a dark, dank and dreary French penitentiary. It taunts prisoners over the decades, luring them to find it and follow its cryptically written instructions, leading them to commit unspeakable acts in order to transcend the laws of time and space to gain their freedom.
It's present-day, and the demonic tome lurks in the cell of four men: Lasalle (Philippe Laudenbach), an uncompromising lifer; Marcus (Clovis Cornillac), a big-breasted tough-guy caught at the halfway point in his sex-change operation; Daisy (Dimitri Rataud), a mentally challenged man with a voracious appetite; and our ostensible hero, the newly-incarcerated Carrere (Gerald Laroche). Carrere got a raw deal: Thrown in prison for a white collar crime and then double-crossed by his wife, he's more desperate than any of them to get out and get revenge. The book senses this, and finds its way into Carrere's hands. As the four men pore over the hand-written journal peppered with strange, Satanic-looking symbols, they learn that it was written by a serial killer who cut the placentas out of pregnant women in an effort to keep himself young and vital. The serial killer, also a student of black magic, recorded a series of escape spells in the book -- the four prisoners are dubious at first, but the book proves its power in a series of strange (and often gory) events.
Malefique is the rare horror movie that is truly horror and nothing else. It never once cracks a joke or throws in a fake scare. It doesn't fill time with insignificant padding. It doesn't try to over-dramatize the relationships between the four cell-mates. Malefique grabs you by the lapels and holds you in its strong, uncompromising grip from the first frame to the last, always building. There are one or two shoddy special effects that dampen the white-hot ambiance of fear, but most of the visual stunners are of the sort that will sear your brain and stay with you for several days. (For example: If you're a male virgin, don’t watch this movie until after you've had sex… or you may not be able to, after seeing a certain nightmare sequence in Malefique!)
(by Staci Layne Wilson)