It was a phrase that resounded around the UK – and further afield – at the end of March in 2021. “She was just walking home.” What happened on that spring night shocked did the nation, as did the revelation of her killer and the case itself continues to ripple through the establishment and society as a whole. The French police in Dominik Moll’s The Night Of The 12th, however, find themselves faced with a seemingly unfathomable murder, one that’s destined to remain unsolved but which feels like something of a mirror image to one that continues to haunt us.
October 12th, 2016. In the police headquarters that evening, a senior officer is holding his retirement party and handing over the reins to his younger successor, Yohan (Bastien Bouillon). It’s noticeably an all-male team. Out in the wider world, on the outskirts of Grenoble, Carla (Lula Cotton-Frapier) is leaving her friend’s house after an enjoyable evening. As she walks home, she records a video for her friend and then out of the shadows comes a man in a dark hoodie and face mask. What happens next is horrific and the following day Yohan and his team, hangovers notwithstanding, are sent to investigate. It’s a case with multiple suspects and one that comes to haunt the new police chief.
Based on a real case from 2016, Moll’s multi-award winner is a procedural that stays true to the original events by upturning the conventions of the genre. And the result is a gnarly, gloomy drama which exerts a tight grip from start to finish. Gone is the Columbo-style reveal at the start or, indeed, any kind of reveal at any time. We’re just as much in the dark as Yohan and his team, struggling with the potential leads and wondering when yet another of Carla’s apparent stream of ex-boyfriends will emerge from nowhere. Her personal life and the emphasis placed on it by the police is one of the underlying issues of the story. Her best friend, Nanie (Pauline Serieys), objects to how it makes her appear and is convinced that the only reason Carla was murdered was because she was a girl. And, three years down the line when the case is still open but going nowhere, a woman judge pushes for further enquiries, bluntly observing, “She was 21 and burned alive. She deserved better.” And, in the same conversation which essentially sums up the issue at the heart of the case, she agrees with Yohan’s observation that “something’s amiss between men and women.”
The doggedly persistently detective finds himself haunted by the killing – an occupational hazard for investigating officers – and Moll adds to his stresses with a parallel narrative involving his second-in-command, the more experienced Marceau (Bouli Lanners) whose marriage is in tatters. While his domestic set-up is unconventional, his attitudes towards women are more traditional and, surprisingly, more respectful. Lanners and Bouillon are both excellent in their roles as the chalk-and-cheese duo, perhaps the closest the film comes to obeying police procedural rules. It’s no spoiler to say that, by the end, the case remains unsolved and still lurks in Yohan’s mind. The film will do the same with its unanswered questions and subdued dialogue. Did the detectives miss something vital? Did we? We’ll never know, but that doesn’t stop us wondering.
Thriller, Crime | Cinemas, 31 March 2023 | Picturehouse Entertainment | Cert: 15 | French | Dir: Dominik Moll | Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Pauline Serieys, Lula Cotton-Frapier.