Nocturama review: French terrorism thriller feels eerily familiar

In French director Bertrand Bonello's thriller Nocturama, anonymous young terrorists with vague motivations become a potent and tragic symbol of contemporary political violence.

Most audiences will see this film's relevance to recent incidents of homegrown terrorism in Western Europe, but its protagonists defy easy categorisation.

The opening of the film is an almost wordless series of shots of young people moving around a sunny Paris via trains, footpaths and pedestrian tunnels. Their movements are precise and the editing conveys the idea they are acting in a coordinated way.

The "what" of the plan is soon terrifyingly evident, but the "why" is something the film leaves us to ponder.

Bonello (Saint Laurent, House of Tolerance) is a visually expressive filmmaker whose interest isn't in ideology but emotion and subjective perspectives.

Here he expresses the intoxication — or collective delusion — of self-righteousness, and imbues the first act of this film with a quality that reminds you of sleepwalking.

In flashback, he offers a vague context to help explain the motivations of his protagonists. A detail here, a reference there — Bonello inserts enough information to convey a sense of grievance that's both local and global.

A young man in a cafe reads a newspaper article about the austerity measures imposed on Greece aloud. An older man, apparently interviewing for an internship position, makes reference to knowing the applicant's father and professor.

The inference of both scenes is clear. The global economy is a racket. The French economy is a nepotistic closed shop.

After the terrorist attacks happen the meaning of the title becomes clear. Night descends across the city and as it does, the young people regroup in a closed department store to wait out security forces.

Against this eerie backdrop decorated by faceless mannequins, Bonello draws out the interiority of his characters and shows them beginning to crumble from a lack of structure, mounting boredom and paranoia.

Surrounded by the trappings of a world they want to destroy, they revert back to being kids. They try on clothes, hang out, watch TV, play games and listen to music.

Mostly, they disconnect. The link between their actions and remorse is not there.

This theme of dissonance becomes central to the film. Bonello starts to interrupt scenes or break the surface illusion of realism.

He cuts abruptly from a young man's impromptu drag performance of My Way to an exterior shot of the concrete and glass façade of the building.

Or he uses an optical dissolve on a shot of a couple walking off to be alone together so that suddenly they vanish like ghosts.

These truncations and disruptions have an ominous quality, but don't take that as a spoiler — Bonello's trajectory is never in doubt; his fresh-faced, clear-eyed actors look like lambs to the slaughter from the very beginning.

It's what happens along the way that makes this film so horribly captivating.

Nocturama is not an empty abstraction of young people on a death spiral. It places youthful anger thoughtfully in the context of neoliberalism's triumph.

Significantly, two of the film's most traumatic deaths are shown via the detached, emotionless eye of a security camera lens.

The film is a carefully constructed hall of mirrors within which Bonello shows us the horror of anger without empathy, and the state as the most terrifying player of all. It is a pitch black allegory for our time.