The Night of the 12th review – compelling police procedural plays like a French Memories of Murder
Dominik Moll's queasy follow-up to Only the Animals is a sticky, damning indictment of the way men make the world less safe
Three years ago, Dominik Moll gave us one of the best films of the first UK lockdown with Only the Animals, a rich, complex feast delivered at a very cinematically lean time. Now he returns with the Cesar-winning The Night of the 12th, a police procedural that isn’t quite as gripping as its predecessor, but still exerts an eerie pull, examining a fictionalised version of a real and horrifying unsolved killing – almost the French answer to Bong Joon-ho’s masterful Memories of Murder.
This murder took place late into the night of the 12th October 2016 in a sleepy alpine town near Grenoble; a young woman, here represented by the figure of Clara Royer (Lule Cotton-Frapier), was burned to death by an assailant who has yet to be found. Investigating the case is the relatively young captain Yohan Vives (Bastien Bouillon, doing a very fine line in “inescapably haunted”), who soon finds the scope of it beyond his reach, as every man they interview becomes, at least in his eyes, a viable suspect.
It’s in the interviews with these men that The Night of the 12th most closely resembles Only the Animals, with dark, tragic laughs piercing the gloom. It’s a welcome quasi-respite after the incredibly intense opening 15 minutes, in which we see Clara’s death and the hideous business of informing her friends and family, but still serves to drive home Moll’s point of how easy it is for a woman to die and no one to really care, at least not as much as they should. Most of the suspects are Clara’s exes, and they range from shithead idiots who mostly react with bemusement to an actively frightening man who has since moved on to abusing his current partner.
Their cretinous behaviour is amusing, but this isn’t at the expense of the deadly serious tone Moll creates, in which their blasé approach to the violent extinguishing of a young life is part of the same awful web that allowed it to happen in the first place. We see their attitudes reflected in some of Yohan’s subordinates, with the exception of the old warhorse of the division, Marceau (Bouli Lanners), whose impotent empathy is instead driving him slowly mad. Both Bouillon and Lanners give excellent performances, always walking the line between misery and rage, unable to find much peace within the stunningly-shot mountain surroundings.
Ultimately, The Night of the 12th is less about the case than it is about the inherent guilt of being a man, a guilt that consumes Yohan and Marceau whenever they give it too much thought. Even if they, as individuals, try to do good, what men fundamentally are here are killers and voyeurs, the people who make the world feel less safe. Perhaps the real story of a real dead young woman isn’t the ideal forum for this idea – one could find hints of self-pity here if they were looking for them – but it is certainly a compelling one, a final message that gets right into the pit of your stomach.
The Night of the 12th is released in UK cinemas on 31 March.Where to watch