Alice Winocour
Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Every time a woman directs a thriller it’s treated like a magic trick — as though they somehow managed to shoot suspense scenes without the presence of a Y chromosome. But “Disorder” really is more interesting to read along gender lines. We don’t mean in the usual, retrograde ways. It’s only surprising that French filmmaker Alice Winocour pulls off some home invasion business — plus one startling out-of-nowhere attack — because of her track record, which includes the peerlessly subtle drama “Augustine” and a co-writing credit on last year’s “Mustang.” That she’s made a movie about an alpha male protecting a trophy wife is another story. Knowing the gender — and, again, the CV — of the person who made “Disorder” invites us to read it as more than a mere genre piece touting potentially retrograde ideals.

You shouldn’t be able to read it that way anyway. This is a thriller by way of a Euro-art film, and it takes its good time planting land mines that won’t explode till the final reel. The first one is planted right away: We meet Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier fresh off Afghanistan, struggling badly to hide that he has obvious PTSD. No longer allowed to fight, he has to loan himself out as a badass-for-hire. He winds up on security detail for a businessman of obscure, probably dodgy wealth. When his employer goes away on a trip, Vincent wonders if outside forces might come after the man’s wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and her young son (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant). Or maybe it’s all in his head.

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Even once it’s clear Vincent’s not paranoid, he’s still not well. Winocour designs her movie to be alternately realistic and subjective. She dives into her protagonist’s fractured head, whether by keeping her camera close to him as he barrels about spaces or by cranking up an ambient score made of frequencies just slightly lower than the ones only dogs can hear. He’s so on edge that he’s a problem, and Jessie — introduced as a pretty face — finds herself having to summon long-dormant strength when he seems too unwell to do his job.

Even the writing reflects his unease. We don’t get many details about what business Jessie’s husband is caught up in, nor do we know exactly the types of people who are, it turns out, after them. It’s so careful about parceling out information that it takes an hour for Vincent and Jessie to tell each other their names. This is no mere solid genre exercise, and it can’t even be reduced to one that’s simply minimalist. It’s a nerve-jangler that jangles nerves by keeping us in the dark and staying uncomfortably close to its damaged hero. It’s a thriller that’s more of a character study, and an opportunity for its two leads to show off their gifts for intensity (him) and subtlety (her). By the end it becomes a little too enamored with head-smashing and window-breaking, and it spots a final moment so ambiguous it could mean nothing at all. But it finds a unique way to leave you feeling spent.

Follow Matt Prigge @mattprigge.