Your neighbor, the quiet and socially awkward man who keeps his house and front yard immaculately clean but never says hello or waves when you pass him in the morning, he's probably a pedophile child molester.
Your coworker, the one you've had a slight crush on for months and have been trying to work up the nerve to ask out, he's probably a pedophile child molester.
Your asshole brother who rarely calls and never comes home for Christmas, he's probably a pedophile child molester.
Your friend that you went on a ski trip with who had no idea how to ski, he totally has a ten year old locked away in his basement that he's raping on a nightly basis.
That horrible one night stand you had last winter with the guy who pulled out and started masturbating on your back, yeah, he likes little boys.
The young father you noticed comforting his sick child at the petting zoo, they're not related; he's a pedophile child molester.
In fact, you're probably a pedophile child molester.
Yup, the film's title character, Michael, is a pedophile child molester. He's the type of common and average every man we all know. Even his name is generic and forgettable. He isn't the type of person who stands out in a crowd. Everything about his appearance and demeanor is plain.
And yet, he has a ten year old boy named Wolfgang locked away in a secret chamber in his basement.
How many people have we met or even intimately known in our lives who may actually be monsters without our knowledge? This is the question that Michael poses and that's really the only point or idea that the film has going for it. Horrible things happen behind closed doors and we're generally ignorant and complacent towards it.You never know who someone really is.
What starts as an absolutely terrifying premise quickly becomes repetitive.
Austrian director, Markus Schleizer, a former casting director for Michael Haneke, has fastened a frustrating mind fuck that unsurprisingly owes a lot to Funny Games, Benny's Video, and Cache in style and tone. Like many of Haneke's films, Schleizer's work is a sterile, emotionally cold, and methodically calculated exercise in testing the audience's endurance and patience. That's not to say I don't respect or admire Haneke, but there are times where he really gets on my nerves. With no stylistic artifices such as music, noticeable camera movements, or editing that calls attention to itself, Michael could easily be mistaken for a Dogme 95 picture.
There has been a great deal of controversy and praise for the film already. I've read some critics refer to it as a dark comedy and others have called it unbearingly uncomfortable.
Unbearingly dull is what it really is. It's certainly not without a few horrific moments and there is one scene in particular that I imagine will have a hard time passing censor boards for U.S. distribution. And the film does open with Michael washing his dick in the bathroom sink after raping young Wolfgang. But those aside, Michael isn't the full on creep fest others are claiming. Although the set up feels ripped straight out of the headlines, Schleizer is not interested in sensationalizing the material, nor does it feel exploitational. This is a beast of an entirely different sort. Yet, the film did leave a bad after taste in my mouth. Although, that could have been the cheap hooch in my flask.
Michael's slow pacing, icy tone, and lack of story driven conflict almost induces a sense of hypnosis, dulling the potentially upsetting material. For some, this may be interpreted as deadpan humor. Maybe it's funny watching a pedophile child molester's futile efforts in trying to ski as he falls down again and again. He's just like any other socially awkward doofus, but he's really a child raping monster, hardy har har. For me, it became a distasteful cynicism.
There were a lot of cell phones coming out of pockets during the screening and I found myself checking the time often. I even made a little drinking game for myself. Every time something uninteresting happened, I took a swig.
I have to say, I left the theater a bit intoxicated.
This isn't a film that's trying to shock its audience. Instead, its aim seems to null them into complacency. Every scene is so quiet and mundane that 30 minutes in, the relationship between Michael and Wolfgang almost feels natural. Michael is indeed a monster, but the film deconstructs his life and daily habits to the point of normalcy. His predatory nature is trivialized, although not entirely humanized.
The film displays neither sympathy nor empathy for Michael. He isn't portrayed as a mentally deficient man who is tortured with self-loathing over a compulsion he has no control over. This is not Kevin Bacon from The Woodsman or Jackie Earle Harley in Little Children. Nor is Michael the sweaty comic book villian in The Lovely Bones. But there is no internal conflict for Michael, he doesn't hesitate to dig a grave the moment Wolfgang comes down with a fever. He is cool and collected predator.
We're given no backstory or explanation on his history, there's nothing to suggest that he himself was a victim of sexual abuse in his childhood. The film unfolds with zero exposition. We have no idea who the child is or how, where, or when he was kidnapped. The timespan of the film is also unclear. Has Wolfgang been held captive for weeks, months, years? None of that is the point though.
There is no palpable tension, dread, or conflict. It's clear from the beginning that the boy has no chance of escape, that there will be no happy ending. Similar to Tom Six's obnoxious and toxic Human Centipede 2, this is a cynical and mean spirited film that exists solely to feed the director's own ego in toying with his viewers.
This is the type of alienating art house thriller that the "cool kids" will feel smarter for liking. If you thought those Gus Van Sant films following the back of people's necks while they walked around for 2 hours were brilliant, you'll probably think this is brilliant.
HUGE ASSHOLE SPOILER
The film's experience is best summed up with a description of the final 10 minutes. This may be a huge spoiler but knowing this information may just save you 12 bucks and 2 hours of your life. If you're into this kind of pretentious horse shit, having the ending spoiled shouldn't affect your experience; it's easy to predict what the end is going to be like within the first 15 minutes.
You see, Schleinzer teases the audience multiple times with the possibility of an accidental death for Michael. If something were to happen to him, the child would be left to starve to death in his secret chamber.
Michael is torture porn and the victims here are the audience. If you're a sadomasochist who enjoys being insulted by an artist, have at it.
Michael does indeed die in a freak car accident. We see his funeral, his family's reaction, all in painfully long single takes. Have days gone by? Weeks? We don't know.
Michael's mother and brother finally arrive at his home to clean out his house.
The audience wants closure and expects the family members to eventually find the child locked in the basement. Will Wolfgang still be alive after so much time without food? This last scene is the only scene with any real tension... and the director knows it.
We get to watch Michael's mother and brother fold shirts in real time, walk around the house, ignoring the basement door. "I got the point the first fucking time they walk past the door not noticing the panic bar. I fucking get it, asshole."
We want them to open that door and rescue that child. We want to know how they react to the discovery that their family member was a child rapist, the worst type of person in the world.
But the director continues to intentionally deny us any catharsis. For a solid 7 minutes, we watch the family members walk around Michael's house cleaning.
I'm all for being challenged but there needs to be some type of reward or pay off. There's none here.
Finally, the mother notices the panic bar on the basement door. She slowly pushes it open......... Cut to credits with an ironic pop song playing.
"HAHA. Fuck you, audience."
"Fuck me? Fuck me?... FUCK YOU!"
It's just like Human Centipede 2 without all the shit....
With all of that said, the performances are mighty impressive.