Can we still live with ourselves when “Vincent Must Die (Vincent doit mourir).” [Fantasia International Film Festival]

Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage…

“Butter with Butterfly Wings,” The Smashing Pumpkins

There are terms and conditions within a society that we all agree to, whether consciously or not. This social contract is what creates civilizations and its breakdown is what destroys them. What, then, does a society look like when the contract is broken? It’s not uncommon for this to be the topic of exploration in horror, often through the zombie lens, via the presentation of our safety breaking down around us unexpectedly, whether in a place of safety or not. This horrifying experience is depicted in comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) as well as in more straight-forward thrillers like 28 Days Later (2002) and The Girl with All the Gifts (2016). Taking a different approach is first-time feature director Stéphan Castang and writer Mathieu Naert’s Vincent Must Die (Vincent doit mourir), a film which premiered at Cannes 2023 and had its North American premiere during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023. It revises a typical zombie outbreak for one where attackers enter and exit a trance around fits of terrible viciousness. Via Karim Leklou’s Vincent, audiences are given a ground-level view of what it looks like when any social interaction can turn violent without warning and how built-up unabated rage can bring down anything.


Karim Leklou as Vincent in VINCENT MUST DIE. Photo courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Graphic designer Vincent is a generally amiable individual. He ruffles few feathers, rocks fewer boats, and generally focuses on his work. That is until two seemingly unconnected attacks on his person at work not only see him working remotely, but have him beginning to worry that a new threat is going to come from someone else. Which it does, always from a new place and always when his guard is down. Unsure what else to do, he takes off for a remote house his father (François Chattot) owns, hoping that if he lays low, whatever’s happening will stop on its own. It’s a choice that puts him in the path of Margaux (Vimala Pons), a disaffected individual looking for change. However, the rage follows Vincent wherever he goes, and there appears to be nothing stopping it from hurting him or those he’s close to.

The Fantasia description for Vincent Must Die describes the film as “genre-bending,” but it’s really a dark thriller sprinkled with depictions of honest humanity. Like any good horror/thriller, there are moments which break tension, either through the ridiculousness of the moment or the ways in which some of the assaults are blocked, infusing Vincent with some genuine moments to breathe. They are, however, few and far between, especially as the narrative really gets going with Leklou conveying a desperation and fearfulness as those whom he felt safe around could turn violent at any moment. Rather than find hilarity here, in my anecdotal experience, there’s nothing more horrifying than feeling that one could be attacked at any point, even when out in public. There is no safety for Vincent *except* in isolation, but then he’s cut off from humanity and at risk of losing his own. There is no real winning in this situation, ramping up the tension as Vincent tries to acclimate to what his new life is like sans tangible human connection. Can he talk to his neighbors? What if a delivery person he relies on turns feral? How can he engage with local government officials without getting arrested? With each new question, the tension rises, making his situation all the more grim and untenable in the long-term.

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L-R: Vimala Pons as Margaux and Karim Leklou as Vincent in VINCENT MUST DIE. Photo courtesy of Unifrance.

As zombie films are often a metaphor for something else, allow a little exploration into what Vincent’s circumstance correlates to: bottled rage. Interestingly, there are two potential theories with this that track, it just depends on your perspective. The first is that Vincent is not dealing with the things that bother him, preferring to make himself smaller, to go along to get along, rather than deal with things. We learn very early in the film that one of his co-workers is his ex-girlfriend, a dynamic he says they make work. As an audience, there’s no interaction between them that even suggests anything other than a working relationship, so there’s no way to tell how fresh the break-up is, only that Vincent seems generally unbothered. What we can confirm is that rather than seek reparations or justice for the two work-based attacks, he’d rather just move on. It’s not that he forgives them outwardly, but it’s unclear if he even does so inwardly. Therefore, what if the attacks on Vincent are a result of him transmitting his own rage onto others who then attack him with the same force he radiates? The other, and in my mind more likely concept, is that the attacks are a result of the attacker’s unaddressed fury that is then laser-focused onto Vincent. He becomes the object of their ire, the target of their bloodlust. Therefore it’s not important “why Vincent?” and more important why so many are vulnerable to such violent possession. This second theory garners some support via the character of Margaux and the internal transformation that takes place via her entanglement with Vincent. To discuss further would go into spoiler-territory, but there seems to be support for this within the text.

Consider that it’s brief-yet-prolonged eye contact that creates the transformation in some, but not all individuals, it’s as though something responds within those susceptible to the rage, whether caused by Vincent or activated within themselves. It’s as if an unrelenting rage has been building up with no place to go, finally given release. In this way, Vincent Must Die can be viewed as an allegory for the dangerous potential of feeling persistently helpless. Like a bullet with butterfly wings being a representation of a deadly object rendered ineffectual by the speed a butterfly travels, so does the violence within Vincent appear as a valve releasing, the wings removed, as it were; excising the feelings of frustration that one can possess when they don’t acknowledge the things around them that cause ire. This feels like the intention of Castang’s and Naert’s story, to free oneself of rage is to preserve ourselves and society as a whole. But to do so requires an awareness of self, a willingness to sacrifice, and a partner whom you trust with your life.


Karim Leklou as Vincent in VINCENT MUST DIE. Photo courtesy of Unifrance.

There are aspects of Vincent Must Die that don’t totally work for me, yet the negative space the creators employ enables the film as a whole to become about whatever most resonates. Not only is that kind of contemplation post-watch joyful to discover, it’s the same feeling which makes someone want to revisit the film to see if, like rage in the moment, it’s all about perspective in a specific time and place. Will the film still work five years from now? Will the audience see something they didn’t or find something else to consider? Are we so blinded by the uncertainty of Vincent’s journey that we miss a clear and present articulation of meaning? Perhaps with our own rage abated, we may learn to find a way to live with ourselves if, in fact, Vincent must die.

Screening during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023.

For more information, head to the official Fantasia Vincent Must Die webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2023

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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