There will likely always be a market for prurient and perverse crime stories. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is going strong years after the original series bit the dust, largely pandering to this interest, and there are any number of similar procedural and long-arc narrative series on American television alone. But as salacious as any one of these stories can be, after a while they can get kind of boring unless they bring something else to the table. And so The Silence of the Lambs lives on for its dual character study of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, and Prisoners explores some murky ethical ground about the validity of torture. Even the first season of True Detective hinted at a Lovecraftian twist right up until the last episode.
But British author Mo Hayder’s novel The Treatment and its Belgian film adaptation De Behandeling don’t seem to bring much new to the table. Its scattered plot touches on the usual high points from pedophilia to torture, and centers on an anguished mess of a detective who never should have passed his psychological evaluation.
Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg) catches the case of a husband and wife discovered chained up, beaten, and dehydrated in their own home, and with their son missing. Nick himself should have immediately recused himself, since his own brother was abducted as a child. Oh, and his girlfriend has been attacked recently as well. Basically, it seems that every single person in this city is either a sexual victim, victimizer, or both. That may make for lurid prose, but it’s not really all that interesting to watch an even carpet of depravity.
Cafmeyer determines that this is a repeating pattern, and tries to track it to its source, which means digging up parts of the case of his own brother. He gets frustratingly close to some answers from one target of his obsession, Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche), only to have them snatched away at the last minute. Meanwhile, another family disappears, giving Cafmeyer more of the puzzle to piece together.
The plotting is bizarre. Most of the turns are entirely rote for this sort of mystery — there’s even a short arc with the most obvious pedophile suspect in the world (Michael Vergauwen) that resolves in the most obvious possible way — but the rest of them come completely out of left field. Fans of classic detective fiction can rightly cry foul here, but this is designed less to be a satisfying mystery than to deliver regular hits of perversion.
Even the backstory with Cafmeyer’s brother is almost entirely extraneous to the story contained in the film, though it may well have continued in Hayder’s novels; she’s gone on to write five more featuring this detective. With luck, they’ll remain on the pulpy pages where they started.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.
This review also appears at Punch Drunk Critics.