I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in the Egyptian Theater to watch a full screening of the three-part Shudder-exclusive French miniseries, Beyond the Walls (‘Au-Dela des Murs’ in its homeland). I knew it was French with English subtitles, that it was two-and-a-half hours long and that’s about it. As the credits rolled at the end of the third episode, I was completely blown away. Beyond the Walls is a confident, visually gorgeous and most importantly ruthlessly coherent adventure that mixes a Del-Toro-esque labyrinth, time travel and everything in-between.
The show follows Lisa (Veerle Baetens), a Speech Therapist in France who inherits the house across the street from her apartment despite never having met the deceased owner. After moving into the house, she hears scratching on the other side of the wall and breaks through only to find a dingy hallway that leads her to parallel universe.
Despite the language barrier, Beyond the Walls is easy to follow thanks to the incredible world-building at play. You’re never flat out told Lisa has had trauma in her life, but you’re certain of from the middle of the first episode thanks to a few factors.
Lisa lives alone in a tiny apartment that she hasn’t bothered to furnish or unpack. She wears a wedding ring despite not having a husband, and uses it as an excuse to avoid hanging out with her friends after work. Finally, she’s tormented by night terrors of a shallow pond that cause her to wet the bed almost nightly.
This almost definitely stems from the show’s co-writer and director, Hervé Hadmar, doubling as a graphic novelist. Each shot feels like a panel of a comic book, filled to the brim with details that give you insight into Lisa’s life. If something is in frame during a scene, it’s put there on purpose.
Soon after stumbling into the world within the walls, she gets horribly lost and meets a man roughly her age named Julien (François Deblock). He reveals that he’s been trapped in the house what he determines to be about three years. Their conversation is cut short by monsters that Julien calls ‘Others’ and they’re forced to hide in the floorboards
Others are men that have been lost so long in the house that they no longer require food or water. The animalistic creatures wander in packs, lead by men with glistening, oily black skin called the First Men. They search for those who haven’t succumbed to the house to finish them off.
The Others aren’t scary to look at, they actually look just like people except for their completely blacked out eyes. That’s what makes them creepy though. They’re so close to human it’s heartbreaking, They can speak and eat, and at times it seems like the only reason they became Others in the first place is that they just simply gave up on getting their lives back.
The labyrinth itself is one of the most beautifully designed worlds I’ve ever seen in film. It never lingers too long on a certain environment, and it’s not entirely made up up dark, winding hallways. Rooms shift from elaborate Victorian parlors, to chapels eerily reminiscent of the Undead Asylum in the video game Dark Souls, to a haunting forest shrouded in thick fog.
The plot never gets lost in the maze of its world, however since Julien has spent his time in the walls meticulously mapping them out. He knows exactly where to go when Lisa brings up clues she gleaned from the will of the man who left her the house. It never feels cheap either, because the places they’re forced to go are teeming with Others, so Julien never had reason to go there.
Beyond the Walls’ coherence lasts through the entire series, and despite dragging a bit at the beginning of the third episode, it luckily kicked into gear as soon as I started to get bored. I was genuinely surprised at how easily I was able to recite the entire narrative to my girlfriend a full 24 hours later and I don’t think there’s a better testament to a film that’s literally about being lost than that.
Finally, the finale is simple yet satisfying, and even though I caught little clues throughout the story, I hadn’t exactly figured it out by the end. Thankfully the it isn’t a cop out either. Without giving too much away, it’s definitive and emotional and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Nearly everything about Beyond the Walls from the Others to Julien’s stagnation before meeting Lisa lends itself to the message that to have happiness in life, you can’t avoid pain and heartbreak. You need to face it head on and you’ll almost always come out a stronger, better person for doing so.
2016 seems like it’s the year of the horror film with standouts like The Conjuring 2 and Don’t Breathe, and Beyond the Walls effortlessly solidifies itself as one of the best. I’ll re-watching it when it launches on Shudder October 20th, and it’s more than worth the $5 dollars a one-month subscription to the service costs.