A review of  With a Friend Like Harry” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for intensity, bloodshed

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

You have to admire a thriller that jumps feet first into the action with the quintessential vacation-from-hell.  From that disquieting experience unfolds a Hitchcockian suspenser, subtly relying on a foundation of warning:  never judge a book by its cover.

The book in this case is Harry (Sergi Lopez), a malevolent psycho-charmer whose surface appearance is all sweetness and light.  Michel (Laurent Lucas) is the “lucky” vacationer, setting out for his dilapidated country home in stifling heat, an uncomfortably cramped car, and a wife and three overheated, tantrum-prone daughters in tow.  Arriving at a rest stop at the precipice of a well-earned breakdown, Michel encounters Harry in the men’s room.  Harry is awash in nostalgic enthusiasm, claiming to have admired Michel in high school and quoting long passages from Michel’s adolescent poetic verse. Flattered, Michel accepts an offer of a ride from Harry, who drives a  swanky Mercedes outfitted with voluptuous ingénue fiancé Plum (Sophie Guillemin) and, thank goodness for small favors, jacked-up air-conditioning.

Sounds too good to be true, and it is.  Michel’s wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner), drowning in the overwhelming demands of motherhood,  delights in Harry’s carefree spirit and never-say-die attitude.  But sooner rather than later, Harry’s cloying attention and over-the-top generosity begins to sour.  Pushing Michel to foster his abandoned literary ambitions and to nurture his repressed desires, Harry proves himself a sinister rogue with a startlingly  imaginative, yet alarming, approach to problem solving. 

The dramatic tensions and character fabrications are pure Hitchcock, including the unique piece of work called Harry. Perpetually upbeat, and resolute in the belief that if you don’t like something, get rid of it. (think the oozingly enigmatic Bruno Antony of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”).  Lopez plays Harry with Ted Bundy-esque appeal, but something about his vacant eyes reveal too much, too soon.  Once alert to Harry’s game plan, the narrative apprehension is permitted to miss a beat, or maybe two.  Still, reality-based fears have a powerful way of worming into ones’ psyche.  Beware of strangers bearing gifts.