Beyond The Walls (2016)
It’s always exciting to discover an interesting and evocative horror story that manages to do something new with a potentially tired sub-genre. The French miniseries Beyond the Walls, directed by Herve Hadmar and now airing on AMC’s Shudder, is exactly that.
Beyond the Walls is a three-part miniseries about a lonely young French woman named Lisa (Veerle Baetens) who suddenly inherits the strange house across the street from her apartment building. A man’s body was recently discovered in the house, which hasn’t been opened for thirty years – no one seems to know who he is, or where he came from, and Lisa has no idea why she was made his heir. Detached from her life and her friends, Lisa moves into the derelict house, throwing down most of her stuff in a single room and wandering the place in search of things to do. One night, she hears weird noises coming from beyond the walls, and promptly smashes a hole in the plaster to investigate. She wanders down winding corridors and through broken doorways until she realizes, all too late, that she doesn’t know her way back. Stumbling upon Julien (Francois Deblock), another lost soul in the walls, Lisa tries to find her way out and evade the weird Others who threaten to keep her in the house forever.
Beyond the Walls interweaves some standard horror narratives into a new, complex mythology that the series manages to keep mysterious without sacrificing coherency. The story begins like a twisted Alice in Wonderland, with Lisa plunging into the house within the house largely because she’s curious about what lies beyond. But as the film proceeds and the layers of the house deepen into something darker and more meaningful, an interesting – if occasionally confusing – philosophy begins to emerge. What opens as a straight haunted house horror story becomes a truly complex narrative, replete with tenderness, desire, and the need to accept both guilt and redemption.
Aesthetically, Beyond the Walls occasionally relies too much on what are becoming common horror tropes: a man with the head of a pig, zombie-like creatures twisting their way down corridors, men with blackened eyes. The house is in a constant state of decay and acts as a labyrinthine metaphor for the complex interaction of guilt and love. Julien inscribes a map of the house on the walls of a hidden cellar, and writes cryptic symbols all over his body, as though reminding himself who and what he is as the house threatens to take more of him.
There’s an episodic, video-game feel to some of the sequences, as Lisa collects more stories, rules, and information that will enable her to escape the house, but these are all brought together in the final act. The final episode is intense and lyrical, drawing together the strands that have been slowly revealed over the course of the previous two into a moving and terrifying conclusion (one that features Geraldine Chaplin, no less). Although I watched it as three separate episodes, it’s really an extended film and should be experienced as such.
Beyond the Walls contains much, but explains very little – the meaning behind the house and the connections of the characters are not fully elucidated by the conclusion. Yet, it still satisfies. It’s a surprising story, mixing common themes together in a haunting melody that echoes long after it has ended.
Beyond The Walls is available exclusively on Shudder.