Here with his final report from the Edinburgh Film Festival is, once again, Richard Brunton with a look at the German serial killer film Antibodies.
This marks the last movie in my very first Press visit to the Edinburgh Film Festival 2005, and what a movie to see as the final movie. More on my torn farewell to the festival on my own site later, but for now let's get to the review that Todd has been waiting for.
I was about to write how IMDB bills the movie, and then I read it. I would suggest you do not, I won't say why other than if you don't and you see this movie, it will be a richer experience for it. Basically though, the movie is about the capture of serial killer Gabriel Engel played by André Hennicke, someone the Police have been trying to catch for a very long time. A small town cop, Michael Martens played by Wotan Wilke Möhring, comes to interrogate him over the disappearance of a child from his village and makes more headway than the Detectives have. However the meeting troubles Martens, and the two characters suddenly seem not as far apart as their roles suggest.
The opening of the movie grabs you by the throat. It portrays Engel, the killer, being tracked to his apartment and captured by the Police but not without a battle first. It's dark, violent and extremely exciting cinema at this point and it shows you immediately the intelligence, cold calculation and sheer determination of the serial killer. It sets the movie perfectly, and tells you a lot about Engel. It's superbly shot and visualised, and had a fair amount of the cinema on the edge of their seats with audible excitement from the people next to me.
I have to then mention what happens after this scene, the titles. It struck me just how good these looked and I became fascinated with them. The words appear on the background and begin to move slowly across the screen. As they do so any foreground object that appears or walks across them, does so over the top and the title moves behind them. For some reason this simple effect was highly engaging and coupled with the unique angles and gentle scenes that played out, I was totally enthralled.
The good camera work follows on from the initial scenes, there are some unusual angles and shots used but they are never obtrusive. The camera is secondary and you do feel yourself pulled into the film by the strength of the story and characters, not noticing the camera moving for you.
Hennicke as the serial killer steals the show. He is utterly enthralling when he is onscreen, and carries the role with complete believability and passion, I do mean that as a compliment. There is no real appeal for this character, yet he has a fascination, kind of like the scene of an accident where everyone slows down to look.
Möhring is equally as strong, and he is engaging because you identify so much with him and want him to win through. The chemistry between the two actors during their interview scenes is excellent, the power and strength of the killer against the insecurity and uncertainty of the cop are played out very well. These scenes provide for some great moments with some excellently written dialogue between them both. His slow descent and the way he is affected by the killers words is expertly handled. The way his life and his personality is slowly changed one step at a time is very strongly written.
The relationships between the cop and his wife and father-in-law are positioned early on in the movie and incredibly naturally, this is something I really liked about this movie, there's no exposition that is glaringly obvious, and even when it is made to the audience it's not always made in black and white, you have some assumptions to make. I really liked that, it means you have to do some of your own thinking rather than be spoon fed.
Another interesting triangle of relationships is that between the two cops and the killer, all have different personalities at the beginning of the movie but as it progresses Martens grows closer to them both. Again well written and visualised characters with strong and believable dialogue.
The movie looks at the effect of strong faith and belief on a person and the family unit. The lead begins as a staunch religious believer and good all round character, and it's later in the film where his faith and belief are eroded and the doubt enters his mind. During the Q&A after the movie, Christian Alvart the Writer and Director said that the role of the killer is that of the doubting voice, of total doubt. The idea being that the two characters are the extremes, and it's from these extremes at either end of the spectrum that people can leap to becoming a fanatic. A fanatic as in the killer, or a religious fanatic. It's this that he wanted to show in the movie. It's only when the reconcile the extremes that they become a person and not a fanatical creature.
There are some shades of comparison with The Silence of the Lambs and the superior Manhunter, but these are inevitable considering the interviewing of a serial killer. There's also comparison with another movie that people will make, and I shan't tell you which, this is something Alvart himself acknowledges, but didn't realise until after he had filmed it. There's no negative aspect to this and the connections are quite superficial, the power and strength of this movie are in the many other layers, not the top glossy layer, but deeper in the characters, family life and fanaticism.
The ending is extremely well crafted, if not entirely well hidden. It's strong, suspenseful and the closing fifteen or so minutes are probably the most suspenseful and exciting I've watched in a long, long time, the EIFF staff member next to me (hi Remi) gasped during these last moments. I thoroughly recommend this movie, especially before the deal is made for a US remake, and it will be, Alvart said as much during the Q&A. So see it now, it's a superb movie with some excellent performances and a very strong script. This was undoubtedly the best movie of the Edinburgh Film Festival 2005 for me.
Review by Richard Brunton