“Who is the worst liar?” asks the judge in charge of deciding whether a father will be allowed to have custody of his son, in French director Xavier Legrand’s tense family thriller. Custody begins with a long courtroom hearing in which the judge is presented with two sides to Miriam and Antoine’s reasons for wanting custody of their son, Julien, in their divorce. This initially sets up the film to be one where the audience must decide who is telling the truth as the film unfolds. However, it very quickly sweeps that measured and rational tone aside for something altogether more unhinged.
The film is a slow but tense build, wasting no time after the opening court scene in establishing Antoine as the definite villain of the piece. Denis Ménochet is utterly chilling as Antoine, towering over the rest of the cast with a sinister bulk that physically enhances the mental torment he weighs on his family. Repeatedly breaking boundaries in an effort to regain control, Antoine uses Julien – the only person legally obliged to be in contact with him – to get information about his wife and daughter.
It becomes clear that he doesn’t want to spend time with his son, but only wants to use him in order to prevent the family from feeling free. Tension begins to build into a massive, heart-stopping crescendo in the final scene where the emotional violence begins to turn physical, making for very challenging viewing.
Legrand has created a sharp-edged, intense piece of filmmaking, which, although reminiscent of the odd overly dramatic TV drama here and there, uses his small cast and knack for building unbearable tension and dread to create a chiller of a film about a horribly skewed family dynamic.
CAST: Denis Ménochet, Léa Drucker, Thomas Gioria
DIRECTOR: Xavier Legrand
WRITER: Xavier Legrand
SYNOPSIS: A broken marriage leads to a bitter custody battle with an embattled son at the centre.