The Five Devils (2022)

The Five Devils (2022)

Though there’s perhaps a touch too much mystery in this beguiling supernatural drama, The Five Devils remains a spellbinding watch



France, United States of America
English, French, Spanish
Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Thriller
Adèle Exarchopoulos, Antonia Buresi, Daphne Patakia
96 min


Petite Maman’s Wario.

What it's about

When an estranged aunt comes to stay, eight-year-old Vicky uses her super-charged sense of smell to unlock the family’s secrets.

The take

The curious link between smell and memory forms the basis of this intriguing — albeit uneven — exploration of the supernatural ties between mother and child. Eight-year-old Vicky (Sally Dramé), daughter of the unhappily married Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), has a sense of smell so fine-tuned she can identify a catalog of notes in any scent. Smells are so evocative for Vicky that they can also send her hurtling into someone’s past, like her mother’s thorny teenage history with Jimmy’s sister Julia (Swala Emati).

The film makes mostly effective use of its fascinating premise and brilliant (partly non-professional) cast. Set in the glacial Alps, the film dives under icy exteriors to find the tension smoldering between the family and their tight-knit community. Like Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman, it uses time-bending magical realism to articulate the elemental force of maternal bonds and a child’s shock at realizing their parents led a full life before them. It’s less illuminating about its central conceit, though, and some of the less fantastical elements are also underdone, coming off melodramatic in a way that clashes with its overall understatedness. Despite this, The Five Devils is a bewitching watch, particularly in its goosebump-inducing final shot.

What stands out

It’s no surprise that Exarchopoulos is on typically stunning form here, but The Five Devils offers fresh discoveries in Emati and the preternaturally gifted young Dramé. When Vicky peeks into her mother’s past, she’s invisible to all except a visibly disturbed Julia, who is misread as mentally ill by everyone else. That gives aunt and niece an unfortunate kinship, as Vicky is bullied at school and worried about by her parents for her strange abilities. Even though we don’t get to see them work much magic together — meaning the strange connection between their characters remains tantalizingly cryptic — both first-time actors give intense, haunting performances as these cosmically twinned outcasts, lending The Five Devils a revelatory quality.


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