The genre film is a recombinatory art, experimentally joining disparate well-worn elements. It has made Frankenstein mingle with everyone from Abbott & Costello to Aaron Eckhart’s generously oiled abs. These mutant artifacts are most successful when the stitches are hidden, as in last year’s Riddick, which combined survival horror, a locked-room siege, and a monster movie into one swiftly moving package. International genre products borrow from different thematic gene pools, but still aim for that kind of coherence. This year’s Film Comment Selects series includes a group of genre tests, all hoping to pull together taut thrills from a collection of clichés. They include an Austrian eco-horror monster movie, an American found-footage death cult dirge, a French cannibal art-film, and a Filipino family drama turned Training Day bullet ballet.
In East Antarctica, a river of red, iron-oxide infused water flows out of Taylor Glacier. Known as “Blood Falls”, it was discovered in 1911, but toiled in big screen obscurity until it was made into the subject of an Austrian horror movie in 2013. Blood Glacier is a resourceful riff on John Carpenter’s The Thing and Larry Fessenden’s Last Winter: a group of scientists at a remote arctic outpost are under attack from mutant insects that were born out of microorganisms brewing in the retreating, globally warmed ice. A briskly entertaining, old-fashioned monster movie, it wrings plenty out of its clapboard set, rubber effects, and omnipresent red LED eyes.
Director Marvin Kren gained notice from cult-horror types for his 2010 zombie apocalypse foray Rammbock: Berlin Undead (currently streaming on Netflix). Clocking in at just over an hour, it takes place entirely in an apartment complex, as a balding sad-sack and his young plumber pal try to fight off the infected. It’s reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead in its slacker protagonists and self-aware narrative, but Kren takes a more straight-faced approach toward his Romero variation (though he lacks Edgar Wright’s visual panache).
Blood Glacier benefits from this belief in the material, however ludicrous. It begins with lead Gerhard Liebmann, whom Kren had only seen in “supporting roles as a little chubby man.” He plays Janek, a surly depressive who loves only his dog and who barely blinks an eye when a microbiologist reveals that the beetle-like creature they have captured is a “hybrid of a woodlouse and a fox” that gestated in the belly of the latter. Kren tasks his mother Brigitte with siphoning off all the camp energy, as she plays a hard-nosed environmental minister who drills an Ibex-fly mutant in the neck with a power drill. In the chaos somehow Janek’s relationship with his dog registers as genuine, just as the baldy in Rammbock believably yearned for his departed beau. Kren is gifted at the revealing gesture, sketching character in a few striking movements without sacrificing tempo to exposition. With Janek, it lies in a few glances to his dachshund, and, as in Rammbock, the baldy embraces oblivion with a hug.
Flesh of My Flesh
Flesh of My Flesh is built entirely on atmosphere. This devouring instance of mother-love uses smeary, selectively focused frames to depict the tunnel vision of a young woman harvesting young human flesh to feed her growing daughter. Anna (Anna Julianna Jaenner) is always clear and sharp, the world around her a shifting, amorphous haze. The images recall Sokurov in the soft focus of Taurus or the distorting lenses of Stone. A striking pale beauty with sharply angled cheekbones, she lures her male targets with the mere hint of a smile, and they always follow. Julianna Jaenner’s blank, beatific performance has the touch of the supernatural, both angelic and vampiric, appropriate for the Grimm’s fairy tales she tells her flesh-imbibing girl at bedtime. The film shatters its mystical hold with an unnecessary (and telegraphed) plot twist, but it remains an unusual, opaque object held together by Julianna Jaenner’s hypnotic performance.
The police procedural Felony chooses to do one genre and does it well. Director Matthew Saville’s film never surprises, but its version of the cop corruption drama at least gives its actors room to sprawl and transcend its clichés, which Joel Edgerton does as the moody cop who covers up a hit and run. Seemingly holding back tears the entire film, Edgerton is the grand dame of the male weepie (see: Warrior), and his tremblingly sensitive work here is yet further evidence.
Of the genre-splicing movies in this year’s Film Comment Selects, however, Blood Glacier is the most successful mutant, suturing the creature feature, the eco-parable, and the man-and-his-dog love story into one improbably entertaining mutt of a movie.