"We Monsters" **** (out of ****)
The family that plays together, stays together in the German language drama "We Monsters" (2016).
Sarah (Janina Fautz) a young 14 year old girl has been having difficulty adjusting to her home life ever since her parents; Paul (Mehdi Nebbou) and Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre) separated. Her mother has a new boyfriend, Michael (Daniel Drewes), who is very eager to move in with Christine so they can all live as a family and has more than hinted at the idea of he and Christine having a baby together.
Charlie (Marie Bendig) is Sarah's best friend. Her father, Kuszinsky (Ronald Kukulies) is a recovering alcoholic, has a police record and it is mentioned on at least one occasion hit Charlie. Domestic life is further complicated by the fact Charlie's mother is no longer around.
How will Sarah and Charlie deal with their emotional distress? One day Sarah murders Charlie after an argument involving a boy that had sent Charlie a text message. Sarah admits to her father that she deliberately pushed Charlie off a bridge into a reservoir. The body is missing and Paul doesn't know what to do. His initial reaction is to take Sarah to the police and report what has happened but when Sarah reveal it was intentional what is a father to do?
Soon Paul and Christine agree to cover up the incident. All seems to be going well, as Charlie had a history of running away from home, until Kuszinsky starts to ask questions and wants to speak to Sarah. Kuszinsky could start trouble for the family. He has begun drinking again and suspects Sarah knows Charlie's whereabouts.
The family is confronted with a moral dilemma. What is the right thing to do in this situation? We all know the saying, "oh what a tangled web we weave when at first we do deceive". How many more lies and cover ups will this one lie lead to?
The movie, directed by Sebastian Ko, aims to get at the heart of what are people capable of when put in extreme situations. Can good people do bad things but have good intentions? Are we all "monsters" within? When does "moral integrity" set in and prevent us from performing cruel acts?
At its best "We Monsters" has a naturalistic quality to it which helps the audience accept the actors in the roles and makes the characters believable. Many in the audience may ask themselves, "what would I do if that was me?"
At worst some may say the movie is predictable and its attempts at being clever, with plot twist and turns, are amateur and the pay off takes too long to build up to.
This would seem to sum up the attitude "We Monsters" was met with at last year's Toronto Film Festival. Only now has the movie begun playing in theatres. It just finished a week long run in Chicago, where unfortunately the local movie critics (sheep) failed to write reviews for it.
There were many different directions Mr. Ko and his co-writer Marcus Seibert could have taken this movie in. For one example it could have become a dark comedy with Hitchcockian undertones. The murder of Charlie does bring Paul and Christine together, making their new partners jealous. However the movie takes its premise and sees it through logically as far as possible in a dramatic human way with a touch of suspense.
Mr. Ko creates a reoccurring visual metaphor for the characters . We see a caterpillar shedding its skin as it transforms into a butterfly. What exactly does this visual represent? We come into the world as one thing and end up something else? Are the characters in "We Monsters" shedding their skin discovering something else underneath?
The actors may be unknown to American audiences, even to some that keep up with the current art house and foreign films. Ms. Tscharre has mostly appeared in German television shows and TV movies. Ms. Fautz had a role in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" (2009) but has mainly appeared on German television shows. Mr. Nebbou was in Steven Spielberg's "Munich" (2005) and the Russell Crowe / Leonardo Di Caprio action movie "Body of Lies" (2008).
Each actor delivers a sincere performance. We believe Paul and Christine are conflicted and merely want to do what is in the best interest of their daughter knowing full well it is not the moral thing to do. We sense their grief. The fact that we are not familiar with their faces only helps us relate more to them.
What I enjoy most about "We Monsters" is the way it weaves ideas and themes so effortlessly. The plot is structured in such a way the escalation of events seems natural and we can logically see how events would reach these heights.
Because of very good performances and a tight screenplay "We Monsters" is one of the year's best films. A shame it has not received the attention it deserves.