Trans Sleuth Makes Thriller Sizzle

Belgian serial killer flick is not just another “Dirty Harry”

The hypnotic Belgian film, “Transfixed” is notable not just for featuring a transgendered heroine named Bo (Robinson Stévenin), but for being an above-average thriller.

Director Francis Girod takes all of the standard crime conventions—a serial killer, red herrings, and obsessive love— and turns them on their head to create an absorbing story.

“Everyone had a secret,” says one character, and this line is particularly apt as no one is quite sure who or what they seem to be. In fact, the filmmaker’s dark humor suggests that Bo is the most well adjusted character.

“Transfixed” opens with Bo’s father being carried off by the police after being charged with molesting young boys, and a detective, Paul Huysmans (Richard Bohringer), pressing Bo to testify in the case. Bo is uncomfortable drudging up painful childhood memories, but since Bo is also a suspect in the murders of her transsexual prostitute friends, she cooperates with the cops.

Bo also encounters trouble in the form of her sexy neighbor Johnny (Stéphane Metzger), who is attracted to Bo—note his erection when he waits on her at a restaurant—but he hates her for turning him on. Bo, however, is smitten, and will go to great lengths for her man, even if this means accepting abuse from him. Their unique “romance”––if that’s what it can be called–– charged with erotic tension, and just one of the provocative elements in this audacious story.

The mystery element of “Transfixed” does not disappoint either. The film contains a few sequences—such as one where Bo breaks into a friend’s apartment—that generate real suspense. And while astute viewers may identify the killer early on, knowing “whodunnit” does not detract from the suspense.

What is more, the victims are all endearing characters, making the impact of their deaths on Bo more affecting. It should be noted that the body count in “Transfixed” is quite high, and there is considerable bloodshed.

If the film has a flaw, it is that the story does get a bit far-fetched toward the end. There is more than enough plot in the film—probably too much—and perhaps in an effort to wrap things up neatly, there are a few coincidences that simply strain credibility.

What is noteworthy, though, is the struggle of Bo’s character to be seen as a woman, not as a transsexual. The film wisely portrays Bo’s efforts to live a normal life, and while she continually shows up at the wrong place at the wrong time to discover a dead (or nearly dead) body, she almost always maintains her dignity. This makes her scaling walls and rooftops in the name of justice not only ironic, but also exciting. Bo is a terrific detective, and the film crackles as she pieces together the clues.

Of course, the film’s success belongs to actor Robinson Stévenin, who gives a miraculous performance as the haunted Bo. Stévenin had a brief but memorable part in “Son Frère (His Brother),” released earlier this year, and “Transfixed” shows that he has the talent to carry a feature-length film. Bo is attractive, determined, vulnerable and confused—often in the same scene—and Stévenin is riveting in the role. He is well-matched by Stéphane Metzgar’s Johnny, whose brooding good looks and attitude are completely captivating. Like Stévenin, Metzgar displays a star quality here.

In support, the great French character actor Richard Bohringer (“Diva”) nicely underplays his role as a seen-it-all cop who may have met his match in Bo. Bohringer’s performance may look effortless, but it is masterfully subtle. The transgender actors also deserve special credit for bringing dimension to who are usually stereotypical characters.

And this is precisely what makes “Transfixed” so, well, transfixing. The film cares about its characters and treats them—and the audience—intelligently. It makes this extraordinary film even more exceptional.

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