Murder and Fantasy Mix at Bavarian Winter Festival
Marc Barenberg (Benno Furmann, with intense steely blue eyes reminiscent of Daniel Craig) is a 30-something father of young (10-ish) Tyll (Henry Strange), from whom he's been estranged since his marriage broke up. A photographer, Marc takes Tyll out on assignment with him, to find and photograph quaint Bavarian folkways; together, the bored Tyll and exasperated Marc find the village of Kaifeck, which holds an annual festival between Christmas and Epiphany, during which villagers dress up as monsters and chase the devil away for another year. An ideal setting for Marc's assignment, and Tyll finds the tales of the monsters very interesting too; soon, they are set up in a converted barn that intrepid villager Juliana (Alexandra Maria Lara) has renovated as a guest house, although her mother Alma (Erni Mangold) disapproves and ancient grandmother Martha (Monika Hansen) seems unsure about the whole scheme - but not about Marc, when she sees him; "I knew you'd come," she croons, stroking his face. Once settled in, Marc starts having discomforting nightmares about a farmhouse in the woods that surround the village - a farmhouse now deserted and crumbling, but once the scene of a vile mass murder of an entire family 80 years previously, the perpetrator having never been found and the skulls of the victims having mysteriously vanished. Rumour has it that among the dead is a small baby, the product of incest between the father and eldest daughter of the clan, but that has never been proved....
Why is Marc having these dreams about this ancient evil? More, why is he waking up to find himself at the abandoned farmhouse? What do the villagers know that they're not telling him? Why does Martha seem so familiar to him, and why is he so worried that young Tyll might be in danger in this place? The answers to all of those questions lie squarely in the past, a past that refuses to stay buried....
I had a few problems with this film, but first the good stuff: the acting is very strong (especially Furmann in the lead role, I quite believed his growing paranoia and determination) and the film is wonderfully atmospheric - it being winter in Bavaria, there's no snow on the ground, but plenty of fog rolling in, and loads of bare woods that seem trackless and threatening without doing anything more than existing. But the Big Reveal - which I won't give away here - was just a tad unbelievable to me, and without believing in that particular piece of information, the film loses its cohesion. It's a very spare film, barely 86 minutes long, which means there's no filler, but the last 20 minutes or so just strained my credulity to the point where I can't quite give this a whole-hearted recommendation. Definitely a work of art in terms of atmosphere and setting, but for me the story needed one more rewrite to make the ending work.
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