Everything that Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) touches, and everywhere that he goes, is either flush with violence or tempered by its distant shadow. A combat veteran who returns home from Afghanistan with a nasty case of PTSD, the burly soldier is so on edge that he can’t even chip apart some ice cubes at a party without stabbing at them with lethal force. Terse, burly, and prone to bouts of shrieking white noise in his head, Vincent is itching to go back to war, if only so he can be in an environment that justifies his jangled nerves.
No such luck. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a private security gig with a team of his fellow vets, prowling around a party at a lavish estate and keeping an eye on any potential threats to the family of three who live there. More than 30 minutes pass before the plot comes into view, the shady homeowner eventually hiring Vincent to safeguard — or babysit — his trophy wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and her young son, but writer-director Alice Winocour uses that time wisely.
Her camera follows the brooding protagonist as he snakes around the glitzy shindig, and it sits on his shoulder as he voyeuristically peeps on various guests through the omniscient CCTV. All the while, Gwennole Le Borgne’s brilliant, restless sound editing disorients Vincent from his surroundings, the bass from the party music rolling between his ears like a thunderstorm, bridging the gap between the character’s previous trauma and his present situation. “Disorder” introduces itself as a psychological drama and molts into a bruising action exercise before eventually settling as a half-hearted home invasion thriller, and the shapeshifting story only hangs together because Winocour so palpably puts us inside the head of her troubled hero.
We never learn all that much about who Vincent was before the war, or about what he saw while he was there (the film mercifully omits sepia-toned flashbacks or any similar such garbage), but the visceral expression of his identity is nearly clear enough to distract from (or compensate for) the feeling that he’s been stranded at the center of a severely underwritten movie.
Winocour, who made her directorial debut with 2012’s sensitive and similarly subjective period drama “Augustine,” is perhaps best known for co-writing last year’s Oscar-nominated “Mustang,” but “Disorder” lacks that film’s heartrending attention to detail and its ability to flesh out all five fingers of its story’s central sisterhood.
Other than Vincent, the estate he’s paid to patrol is the movie’s most well-realized character; the house is called “Maryland,” and it’s somewhat telling that “Maryland” is also the title under which “Disorder” first premiered — as though the film never gave her any decent options, and she was later forced to abandon a proper noun for a more generic one. It’s refreshing that Vincent and Jessie aren’t pushed into the kind of clichéd affair that seems required of two such perfect-looking people (she’s understandably more concerned about the well-being of her son than she is in the paranoid hunk who shadows their every move), but they don’t develop a relationship of any kind until long after Winocour has run out of the track required to imbue her touching last shot with the dramatic heft it deserves.
Respectfully folding the symptoms of PTSD into a slick genre piece, “Disorder” is more of a calling card than it is an arrival. But, flimsy and forgettable as it can be, her sophomore effort nevertheless augers great things to come. Winocour has a talent that cannot be taught, she has a gift for filtering every development through at least one character — especially those moments that other movies would mulch into the stuff of raw spectacle.
The film’s action beats are few and far between, but Winocour shoots them like they’re setpieces from a slasher movie. The first such sequence comes out of nowhere, popping into reality with the suddenness of a jump-scare, and the whole thing is muted with the abject terror of fighting for one’s life. Vincent might be jonesing for a return to the battlefield, but that’s only because he can’t shake the horror of actually being there. The perpetual readiness for combat has whittled him raw, and the bloodiest moments of Winocour’s film rattle with the realization that violence can’t hope to cure the same disease that it tends to cause.
“Disorder” opens in theaters on Friday, August 12th.