Every so often a movie comes along that’s unspeakably paralyzing and gutwrenching, causing post-credit asphyxiation after your heart jumps straight into your throat. The Treatment is exactly that kind of harrowing, haunting filmmaking that elevates typical crime-drama-storytelling into realms we’d probably be better off never exploring, yet filmmaker Hans Herbots ensures you’ll be glued to your seat whether you like it or not.
Based on a novel written by Mo Hayder, U.S. audiences will quickly notice parallels between Herbots’ adaptation and Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, but The Treatment is a shocking mystery that deserves no comparison. Kudos to Herbots and company for echoing a bleak, relentless and viciously gritty drama that never shies away from making a film too emotionally jarring. The Treatment is heroic foreign filmmaking in a time when most American movies won’t be greenlit without a fluffy, concise ending.
Geert Van Rampelberg plays Inspector Nick Cafmeyer, lead investigator on a nasty pedophile case that unfortunately hits close to home. After losing his brother Bjorn in the same fashion as a young child, Nick takes a vested interest in finding such a sick, twisted murderer, but as the line starts to blur between his judicial duties and personal obsession, the case takes an unexpected turn. We follow along as Nick navigates a disgusting web of deviants while attempting to solve the Simons case, yet when new clues arise, there’s a chance for his own questions to be answered as well. Can Nick keep his own motivations separate from his civic duty, or will he abandon the case in search of what really happened to his deceased brother?
Clear your night after watching The Treatment, because this is the kind of film that drains every ounce of moral faith from your soul based on how raw and revealing each horrifying detail is depicted in full. Some criminal dramas pander towards mainstream audiences, shying away from revolting details that haunt reality, but Herbots instead opts to transform his villain into the Devil by including infuriating evidence in the form of pictures and videos as well as the bound, gagged and tortured bodies of under-aged victims.
Are such heartbreaking, hateful acts hard to stomach? Yes, they are. Beyond words that even the most eloquent author could string together. But Carl Joos’ screenplay becomes inherently more astounding paired with these fearless visual depictions. Seeing what Herbots’ villain is capable of raises levels of danger and societal horror, and also offers a brief glimpse into the world of officers who are forced to re-live these cases day in and day out. All of these unsettling details blend together for what becomes a heavy weight upon our chest, one that boils our blood and has us screaming for proper justice.
I should clarify that The Treatment isn’t horror in the sense of slasher killings and cheap jump scares as Nick investigates abandon buildings at night, but horror that makes us reflect on the world surrounding us, confused by the existence of such unspeakable acts. With that said, Herbots achieves what could be the scariest visual moment at this year’s Fantastic Fest, after we’re finally introduced to Nick’s real target. Holding a woman hostage in her own home, she’s able to scratch a hole granting her vision downstairs, which also gives Herbots the chance lurch the child-loving murderer towards the hole as we’re looking through. He’s no demon or creature, yet with a blood-splotched face, we get an all-too-personal glimpse of the Devil himself disguised as a sick, pathetic, disgusting skinbag. THAT is pants-wetting terror, realizing how true monsters could walk right by us on the street and we’d never know.
Van Rampelberg brings a warranted intensity to his character Nick, yet the collection of deviants and victims also establish multi-layered performances that offer brilliantly contrasting personalities ripe with villainy and innocence. Nick leads us deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of sexually abusive adults and better-not-seen acts, and it’s Van Rampelberg who achieves a balance of being one millisecond away from an enraged outburst, yet professional and restrained despite veins popping and constantly-clenched-fists. Nick is the character any respecting person would become, seeking a conflicting level of humanity paired with a helpless, desperate want for slow, painful retribution. The atrocities Van Rampelbergs’ character is forced to digest should be wished upon no man.
It helps that The Treatment is shot with respect in mind, showing just enough to convey a point while avoiding a shameless slew of emotional kicks in an attempt to keep viewers pinned against the ground. Herbots keeps creeping, invasive tension on the forefront of every shot, aided by ominous music that suggests voyeuristic tendencies (I think back to a particularly twisted pool scene featuring a skittish man and swimming children). Forget about the location work and settings, because no matter where Herbots points a camera, atmospheric tension always reigns supreme. Mix that with spray-painted ramblings about a “Female Toxine” and a subplot that eventually works as a dot-connecting craze, and you’ve got the next chilling criminal masterpiece with this film.
The Treatment feels like you’ve simultaneously received a haymaker from Muhammad Ali and a gut-punch from Mike Tyson, only leaving room for regret, remorse and reflection – a filmmaking compliment some might misconstrue as a derogatory statement. Consider that warning, as I wouldn’t pick Herbots’ case study as your next date movie, but an emotional powerhouse of a drama exists beyond comprehension, ready for those who appreciate such gravity. Once the slow-burn dramatics transform into unmatched emotionality, there’s no stopping our mind’s slow descent into madness, right along with Inspector Nick Cafmeyer.