It starts out reasonably enough: we hear a lecture against pornography. But the words are angry, vehement, and even if we agree with the content, you can’t help but worry about the tone. Then it continues: the Internet is evil too. And so is “fraternization” – males and females hanging out together…merely looking at each other. It’s all decadence that leads to adultery, and adultery is worse than murder. At least murder is permitted under certain circumstances, but adultery, never. Which is why women should be made to stay in the home.

This is of course rhetoric coming from a Muslim imam in a mosque. The worshippers gathered to hear him are diverse. One, Sam (Malik Zidi), or “red beard” as they call him, is an undercover journalist hoping to get a juicy story on jihadism. His Muslim buddies are all young guys like him from a range of backgrounds, easily mistaken for a group of soccer-loving 20 somethings. But one of the gang, Hassan (Dimitri Storoge), leaves France because he’s ready to make holy war. When he comes back, he tells his friends they’re charged with forming a terrorist cell right there in Paris.

It’s scary to watch something this topical when in fact Paris has been hit several times now by terrorists. The threat is real. Al-Queda isn’t just “over there”, it can be home-grown and just as serious. That’s why this movie strikes such a nerve. As Sam says in the film, the mosque is very good at radicalizing young men. The imam has the subtle traits of cult leaders, and though the young men may originally wander in out of curiosity, they stay out of belief, and then develop fanaticism. The inherent misogyny in the system seems to be attractive to a certain kind of disenfranchised young man.

Made in France is scarier than any horror movie you’ll see this year, and for that reason I wish the film was more analytical as to what would truly encourage a regular Joe to turn extreme. As it stands, the movie’s characters are one-dimensional in terms of motivation. It’s a fairly effective thriller, but not overly insightful. Shot before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, director Nicolas Boukhrief struggles to find a balance between the genre and its real life inspiration. He achieves a tense atmosphere that’s gripping and heart-pounding, and features a couple of punchy, taut action sequences. Ultimately succumbing to generic twists and beats, Made in France doesn’t quite deliver on its socio-political promise. But the reminder that anyone can be a terrorist, a camera’s simple panning of a nondescript residential street that could be my neighbourhood or yours, taps into our panic and forces us to confront our worst fears.

Friday, October 28, 8:00 PM, Spadina Theatre, Alliance française de Toronto

Tickets can be purchased at the Cinéfranco website