I always find pre-Deakins Villenueve quite lacking. Polytechnique is a harrowing idea for a movie and there are a number of sequences which really work. The opening scene, for example, pins you to your seat and with it’s sudden burst of violence and the non-linear narrative is inspired for the most part. Following in the wake of something like Elephant though, it feels like familiar ground and quite pedestrian.
Obviously the event that inspired Polytechnique was it’s own tragedy and heartbreaking in it’s own right, but the approach here is nothing surprising or unique. In fact, I found myself thinking about United 93 while watching this. Like that film, it doesn’t take sides with the victims or the killer and instead presents it all as fact. Villenueve’s compositions and direction aren’t as confident as they are now so it’s fun to see him at a formative stage as a filmmaker. If I saw Polytechnique in 2009 I never would have guessed Villenueve would go on to be responsible for some of my favourite direction in recent years (I just really, really love Sicario guys). A fun film for Villenueve completists to go back to but otherwise quite a mid-tier true story shocker that boasts only occasional promise of real greatness.