German Angst

2015 | Germany | Directed by Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, and Andreas Marschall

Logline: Three bitter tales of love, sex, and death, all set in Berlin.

I was hanging out for some extreme Euro horror. It’s been seven years since the French and Spanish carved out some seminal and highly original pieces of extreme horror; Frontier(s), Martyrs, Inside, and the first two [REC] movies. Those five signaled the arrival of some serious talent in the genre. But none of the directors have been able to follow up with anything as memorable. Instead, we’ve been overwhelmed with a steady saturation of Hollywood PG-13 flicks, and remake after remake after remake.

I’m not a fan of Buttgereit. I saw Schramm a few years back and thought it was okay, nothing special. I finally caught up with his two Nekromantik films a year or so ago and I thought they were both rubbish. The first one was particularly self-indulgent and tedious, the second one marginally better, but that’s not saying much. Perhaps if I’d seen them back in the late 80s, early 90s, I might have found them shocking, but somehow I doubt it.

Buttgereit is the most prolific of the three anthology directors, with numerous shorts, documentaries, and features to his name. The other two, who I had not heard of, have a clutch of shorts, a few features and a couple of documentaries between them. Apparently they’re considered Germany’s most shocking directors. Well, France and Spain have got nothing to worry about. German Angst failed to deliver on several accounts: there was very little that was actually Germanic about the three shorts, there wasn’t much that could be described as “angst-ridden”, and there was virtually nothing shocking about any of them.

In the first short, Final Girl, directed by Buttgereit, a young girl, barely in her teens, lives with her pet guinea pig in a filthy apartment. She has a man (her father??) bound and gagged in the bedroom. In a voice-over she relates how the guinea pig is operated on to neuter him. She then indulges the technique on her captive.

In the second short, Make a Wish, directed by Kosakowski, a deaf-mute couple sharing a romantic moment in a derelict building are set upon by a bunch of brutal thugs who proceed to ruin the couple’s lives. The handicapped man uses a talisman to apply a supernatural remedy and exact a revenge of sorts.

In the final short, Alruane, directed by Marschall, an American man relates a very strange story to his German girlfriend about pursuing a mysterious young woman who leads him to a clandestine sex club where members indulge in the imbibing of the notorious mandrake root.

Marschall has the best premise and sports the best shot short, a Lovecraftian vagina dentata black magic nightmare, but squanders it with a gruff, moody, and ultimately unlikable protagonist, and takes too long to deliver the horror. When it finally reveals itself, it’s all a bit late in the game (I was reminded of Isaac Ezban’s Nasty Stuff, a much more effective short with a similar sting). Shame about Kira (Kristina Kostiv), she had the most charisma of the entire movie.

Buttgereit’s short is the most concise and, ultimately, the most effective of the three, shot with a great tilt-shift technique. The middle short is the ugliest, most obnoxious, and the most pointless. It does, however, feature the only obvious German element (other than the Berlin setting): WWII Nazi brutalism in the form of a yarn being spun by one of the victims, and arguably the only genuinely ghastly moment, a blink and you’d miss it moment of infant bashing. There also are a couple of graphic head injuries, but again, cut so tight you could blink and miss them.

German Angst should’ve been a kick in the teeth. Instead it was a slap on the butt, and a nudge in the ribs. While the subject matter was edgy, it promised far more than it delivered. I wanted to recoil and shudder, to gasp and goggle, but I was only disturbed by an inconsiderate elderly couple sniggering and muttering in German in the row behind me (?!).

Come on Europe; bring (back) the dark love for us True Believers!


German Angst screens as part of the Freak Me Out section of the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Sunday 14 June, 9:45pm – Event Cinemas 9