At first glance, Trouble Every Day might resemble any number of horror films concerned with biological panic. Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) is a scientist honeymooning in Paris with his wife, June (Tricia Vessey), though it’s soon clear that he’s in the City of Lights for additional mysterious reasons. Coré (Béatrice Dalle) is a beautiful woman who lures random men off into remote fields for the promise of sex, which she fulfills right before tearing them to pieces and wallowing in their blood. Léo (Alex Descas) is Core’s keeper of sorts: He tracks her down after her rampages and cleans her up, and he buries her victims’ bodies and attempts to keep her locked down in his compound, which is outfitted with an advanced laboratory in the basement. Near the end of the film, we’re provided with a few cursory bits of exposition that more or less tie these threads together, though the intensity of the images render the active plot beside the point.
And while Trouble Every Day operates, superbly, as a biological-themed horror film, it would cheapen director Claire Denis’s achievement to say that she merely literalizes the violent implications of sex, even when manifested as traditional “romantic” lovemaking. Films have been linking sex with violence since their inception and, frankly, it’s not a particularly surprising conclusion with which to arrive. Denis, however, expounds on the notion of sex-as-violence with an unnerving clarity that appears to explain why acts of theoretical love and brutality assume such disconcertingly similar outward appearances, as both involve attempts to foster illusions of control where there aren’t any. Theoretically, sex involves a search for communion, intimacy, whereas violence is often an expression of dominance, and Denis shows that intimacy and dominance are similarly impossible concepts to realize with any degree of permanency, if we’re to be truthful with ourselves.
The filmmaker explores the concept of intimacy through texture; there’s possibly no other living director as in sync with the politics of touch as Denis. We can tell that Shane and June are newlyweds by the way they regard one another physically. They touch in a fashion, which could be termed “tentative lust,” that’s common among newer couples; it’s a combination of romantic courtliness and the urge to fuck each other’s brains out. Christelle (Florence Loiret-Caille), the maid, turns down their hotel bed and they can’t wait for her to leave, they collapse on top of it, ruining her work and behaving in that generally self-absorbed manner of romantic intoxication that will scan as strikingly obnoxious to anyone looking on them from the outside. Shane has a particular thing for June’s neck, which is understandable as it’s a gorgeous neck, a work of biological sculptural art that represents sex as that clean, uncomplicated self-actualizing ideal we like to pretend it is. But Shane is also clearly quite taken with Christelle’s neck, which appears to summon desires within him that are less quantifiable.
Between Shane and June, Denis offers one extended and stunning image that encapsulates the tranquil safety that many hope to get out of a conventional domestic romantic arrangement: June is taking a bath in the hotel bathroom, the water invitingly sudsy with soap, and Denis lingers on her bush and breasts as they’re half-submerged in water, but this isn’t a prurient image. Instead, we feel the warmth of June’s body and the comfort she’s respectively experiencing and projecting toward Shane as his potential shelter from the metaphorical storm.
This prolonged survey of a body’s topography is provided its nightmare mirror image later in the film, when we finally see one of Coré’s coital murders in full. The young victim’s torso briefly fills the entire screen, and we’re allowed to see sprouts of hair, musculature, pimples, and the concave of chest. We see this body through Coré’s eyes, and we understand that her hunger represents the fear that intimacy, true intimacy, either doesn’t exist or isn’t enough to fulfill whatever deeper existential distresses may haunt us. And Coré’s devouring of this body, which is all the more disturbing for her pitiful attempts at romantic intimacy, such as the quick wolfish kisses she places on the strips of skin she’s torn from the flesh, represent an attempt to punch through flesh and to transcend it, to find this elusive intimacy and to quell this hunger.
Our suspicion that Shane possesses Coré’s cannibalistic malady is eventually confirmed when he destroys Christelle in a scene that might rank as one of the most disturbing of all cinematic murders. This isn’t a cold resolutely theoretical moment of shock cinema: We feel Christelle’s physical pain and her crushing disappointment as her own lust is perversely and unfairly turned against her. In this moment, Denis clarifies a common misunderstanding of both her own work and of the horror film in general: Both, at their simplest, might often concern the fear of death, yes, but both are also often poetic, cathartic expressions of a fear that springs from that primordial fear of death: of a life wasted, of a life spent in ghastly, cold, unrelenting aloneness.