Criterion Prediction #209: The Cars That Ate Paris, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Cars That Ate Paris
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Max Gillies
Synopsis: After a car accident that fatally wounds his brother, drifter Arthur Waldo is stranded in the small community of Paris, Australia. At first, in what seems like a turn of good luck, Arthur is taken in by the remote village. However, the town has a dark network involving engineered car wrecks and medical experiments.
Critique: There’s a rare distinction to the weirder-than-thou debut of Peter Weir. Out of all the car-driven horror movies (Duel, The Car, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, Death Proof), The Cars That Ate Paris is, without a doubt, the strangest. While it’s not as violent, shocking or in-your-face as the other movies in this bizarre subset, Weir’s hazy moodiness is apparent from the start. And his analytical commentary of Australian culture substantially weighs on a potentially ludicrous story. The conceit of an isolated village who create auto wrecks in order to curate people and bodies to operate on is partially ridiculous and simultaneously awesome and could also fall into sensational or schlocky territory.
On the one hand, it might have worked to the film’s benefit if Weir tended toward more of a B-movies aesthetic. However, his indecipherable air of amorphous uncertainty lends The Cars That Ate Paris something special, though at the cost of being difficult. The pacing is clunky and some of the dialogue is difficult to decipher with the thick accents but there’s an unforgettable aura surrounding this film. The Cars that Ate Paris is not Weir’s best by a long shot but worth the energy all the same.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Criterion has a penchant for the unusual–Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Equinox and Jellyfish Eyes come to mind–so The Cars That Ate Paris would fit right in. The inclusion of some earlier Weir movies, The Plumber and The Cars That Ate Paris, seem tailored for an impending Criterion release. Hopefully, this means a restored version of The Last Wave.