GERMAN ANGST (2015)
Directed By: Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, Andreas Marschall
Written By: Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski & Goran Mimica, Andreas Marschall
Stars: Lola Gave, Axel Holst, Matthan Harris, Annika Strauss, Andreas Pape, Milton Welsh, Desiree Giorgietti, Kristina Kostiv, Rudiger Kuhlbrodt
There are two distinct reactions I find I have, whenever a film really rocks my world these days. I can be stunned into a shocked silence, when a film that promises to be brutal actually delivers on that promise, as was the case with Damien Leone’s Eighties slasher throwback, TERRIFIER.
Or, I find myself repeating the word “WOW”, both aloud and internally, when the artistry and sheer horror of a film manifests itself in a way that I haven’t seen in a very long time. GERMAN ANGST falls squarely into the second category.
The word “angst” is defined as “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general”, and filmmakers JORG BUTTGEREIT (the NEKROMANTIK films), MICHAL KOSAKOWSKI and ANDREAS MARSCHALL (MASKS, TEARS OF KALI) have done an excellent job of infusing that theme into their three short standalone tales of “Love, Sex and Death In Berlin”, as one of the promo posters promises. And you’d best strap yourselves in, kids. Nobody delivers on horror like the Germans when they’re at their best, and GERMAN ANGST contains some pretty excellent, soul-shattering “frights” of fancy.
Writer/director Buttgereit leads off with “Final Girl,” and since his reputation preceded itself with me, this is the first example of his work that I’ve ever seen. Not being a huge fan of films that feature necrophilia, I’ve kept his NEKROMANTIK series at bay for a very long time now; my experience with that theme being limited mostly to movies like Alan Rowe Kelly’s excellent low-budget satire/homage, I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW. But with this segment, he may have managed to finally change my mind about his work.
The story is deceptively simple: in the wake of a brutal murder committed in her neighborhood, where a man beheaded and dismembered his wife in front of their kids, a young girl (LOLA GAVE), has turned the tables on her sexually abusive father (AXEL HOLST). We don’t know exactly how or when she got the upper hand on him, or even if he actually has been molesting her. The clues are all found in scenes around their apartment that you have to pay very close attention to, and also in the chillingly calm narration that at first seems like a jarring non-sequitur: she talks about the care and handling of her beloved pets, her guinea pigs.
The opening shots, juxtaposing her with her friends, whom she lets run loose around the place, has nothing cute or fuzzy about it. The entire series of shots does a masterful job of evoking tension laced with unknown dread: you’re never free from the feeling that major shit is about to go down, and when it does, it’s going to be of the extremely nasty variety. And Buttgereit does not disappoint us. In fact, what happens far exceeds what you find yourself guessing will happen, before it actually does.
Gave’s fantastic performance is all the more unsettling, because her angelic face reminded me of the young Jennifer Jason Leigh, (who would’ve probably been cast if this were an American film). The calm, almost serene demeanor she maintains, even as she takes her revenge out on her abuser, makes the gorier scenes all the harder to watch. I don’t remember the last time I looked away from the screen that many times, (TERRIFIER, maybe?), but see if you can avoid doing the same. And Holst does so much with very little in terms of his role as the father. He seems so resigned to his fate, in atonement for the horror he’s visited upon his own daughter, that you almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Episode Two, “Make A Wish,” comes from the main producer of the film, MICHAL KOSAKOWSKI, and for my taste, makes the utmost of the anthology’s title and theme. From a script co-written with GORAN MIMICA, the story opens with a cute deaf couple, German-born Poles Jacek (MATTHAN HARRIS) and Kasia (ANNIKA STRAUSS). Just out exploring, they come across an abandoned factory/office complex on the outskirts of Berlin. Now, with most horror films, you know that there’s always going to be someone or something lying in wait for unsuspecting interlopers, in a place like this.
And yes, what finds them is just as bad: the group of Nazi punks who “rule” this territory, lead by the psychotic Jens (ANDREAS PAPE). Coming across a couple of “dirty Polish pieces of trash”, who are also disabled? That’s like a ‘family night of board game-type fun’ to them.
But there’s one thing none of the deplorable group knows. Jacek has given Kasia a strange medallion that has a very unique family history, as well as a purpose: the person who holds it can “wish” for two people they’re thinking about to switch bodies. The scene that unfolds, as Jacek tells the medallion’s story, seems like an outtake from SCHINDLER’S LIST, and is every bit as gruesome and heartbreaking as anything found in Spielberg’s opus. Except that none of the Third Reich’s victims in that case, had the advantage of a magic trinket that can do what this one does.
“Wish” makes it apparent that the filmmakers of this anthology put a lot of thought into each one of these tales. There are scenes that I’m sure they thought would look great on camera, but none of it – even the gore, is included without giving depth to the story, as they help advance it. The violence in the past and present is extremely hard to watch, but the underlying message, about the dangers of becoming the kind of monster you most despise, perfectly runs throughout the spine of Kosakowski and Mimica’s script. And the ending, though frustrating in some ways, also is perfect, leaving you wanting to know more about what happens next.
Every anthology should have that ‘best-saved-for-last’ story that pulls out all the stops, either performance-wise or in terms of visuals and practical effects, and that story would be writer/director ANDREAS MARSCHALL’S “Alraune.” I never thought I’d describe something as “a body-horror, supernatural sexual noir thriller,” but that’s exactly what this is. Commercial photographer Eden (MILTON WELSH – AEON FLUX, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and the CONAN THE BARBARIAN remake) is in bed with his on-again/off-again lover, Maya (DESIREE GIORGETTI – P.O.E.: PROJECT OF EVIL). After having a nightmare, he tells her the story of what he’s been up to since the last fight they had that caused them to split.
Something of an aging bad boy, Eden hooks up with a woman online, who goes by the handle “Snow White.” He arranges to meet her at a local Goth/industrial club, where he meets a dancer named Kira (KRISTINA KOSTIV – BERLIN SYNDROME), whom he thinks is the woman he hooked up with on the online dating app. Whoever she is, she’s a whole lot more than Eden imagined she’d be…so much so, that he becomes obsessed with her.
After a hot scene involving coke and dry humping in one of the bathroom stalls at the club, Kira suddenly bolts from Eden, who follows her as she’s led to a building by a strange group of people. They all disappear behind a bright red door, (and is there ever a time in a horror film, where rooms with red doors are a good thing?) and Eden’s attempts to enter are barred by the leader of the group with Kira, the enigmatic Petrus (RUDIGER KUHLBRODT).
Petrus offers the thirsty Eden a chance to see Kira again…but with some pretty strange strings attached. He must pledge himself to Petrus, who is the self-described “master”, and warned that once he becomes part of the ‘club’ that Kira is in, there’s no turning back. Proof of the depth of his obsession with her is that he agrees to any and everything, only to find out that the price is a whole lot higher than kissing an older man on the mouth, rubbing elbows with his ROSEMARY’S BABY-type coterie of friends/’club members’, and being injected with a strange plant-based drug that produces some ALTERED STATES-type effects that even he wasn’t prepared for. (Kudos to the practical effects teams on all of the vignettes, but they really excel with the effects and visuals here.)
Eden does manage to find Kira again, but what the love affair costs both of them is beyond anything you could imagine, or would want to be involved in yourself for anyone, no matter how ‘hot’ they are or how much you think you love them. “Alraune” could ultimately be interpreted as an adult fable about the destructiveness of addictions of all kinds, but mostly of the sexual. By the horrifically tragic conclusion, Eden becomes just one more lost soul in the underbelly of Berlin, helplessly trapped in a nightmare of his own choosing, with not a single chance at redemption or escape.
Hands down, this is one of the most well-executed anthologies I’ve seen recently – even besting that excellently done Boschian nightmare-in-the desert, SOUTHBOUND. For three stories that are independent of one another in every way save the theme, the editing by Kosakowski still makes everything seem seamless; moody interstitial shots of the city woven in between the stories.
It never ceases to amaze me how good acting needs no translation, and the performances here are all pretty much stunning. Kudos especially to the cast of “Wish,” specifically Harris and Pape, who really had their work cut out for them with one difficult scene in particular. You’ll know which one I mean when you see it. The same can also be said for William Fichtner-lookalike Welsh, who does a stellar job playing the doomed anti-hero at the center of “Alraune.”
It’s always nice to have one more great anthology to recommend whenever a fellow movie fan asks, and GERMAN ANGST has managed to do something that doesn’t happen very often: move me to award it four-out-of-five stars.