Family Dinner - New Release Review
Director: Peter Hengl
Starring: Nina Katlein, Pia Hierzegger, Michael Pink, Alexander Sladek
Written by: Peter Hengl, Onur Özcan
Produced by: Lola Basara, Alexander Glehr, Johanna Scherz
Cinematography by: Gabriel Krajanek
Original Score by: Peter Kutin
An overweight teenager spends the holidays at her aunt's farm in the hope of getting help to lose weight, but soon after her arrival, she begins to suspect that something is very wrong at this place.
Having missed it on its successful festival run last year, I was eager to catch this little Austrian thriller just before its exclusive release on ScreamBox later this month and I was not disappointed. It wasn't exactly shocking per se but it's slow pace really drives the tension to that rather disturbing finale.
Nina Katlein plays Simone, nicknamed Simi, a slightly overweight teenage girl who is clearly not comfortable in her own body. When we are first introduced to Simi she has just arrived at her Aunt's country house to stay for a few days in the run up to the Easter Holiday weekend. Aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) is a nutritionist who has published many books on cooking and diet control and Simi sees this as an opportunity to help her lose some weight. Aunt and niece are a little estranged as they haven't spent time together since Claudia's divorce from Simi's Uncle Max. Claudia has since hooked up with Stefan, who now lives and works on the farmland. Rounding out the family is Filipp, Simi's younger cousin.
Upon arrival Simi is welcomed by Claudia and we get some necessary backstory before being introduced to Stefan and Filipp later at dinner. It's pretty clear that there is something amiss with Filipp and there's an inclination that Stefan, even though he is super polite and friendly towards Simi, might be harbouring some dark secrets. There's a scene that alludes to Simi's thoughts on Stefan and it actually turns out to just be a nightmare but it leaves a huge hint at what might be coming.
The strangeness begins to boil over even more when Claudia finally gives in to helping Simi lose weight and she is put on a strict diet. Claudia refers to Simi as her pupil and it's around this time we begin to realise that maybe even Claudia has something dark going on behind those motherly eyes.
Simi's relationship with her cousin Filipp is very tense and unhealthy as he becomes increasingly unstable and Simi is left to wander who is telling the truth about what is really going on here. This uncomfortable family dynamic is unfolding slowly as a backdrop to the upcoming Easter celebrations, which Stefan teases is "very important" to Claudia even thought he doesn't believe in them.
'Family Dinner' isn't a traditional folk horror film but there's enough hinted at during the middle section of the film to allow viewers to think that it might be. It's a very well written and shot film that doesn't give a lot away, however its slow pace won't be for everyone.
Nina Katlein is an absolute star here and her subtle, nuanced performance really carries the film even though it seems like she really doesn't have lots to do. It's simple stuff that could easily be brushed aside or even overacted but she is spot on. Pia Hierzegger matches her subtle yet intense performance too as the overbearing Mother who slowly unravels as the film progresses. Michael Pink is quite terrifying at times as Claudia's younger and super athletic boyfriend. He's charming but there's also a sleazy presence that radiates off him every time he has any extended dialogue. And he has a menace to him which is very unsettling.
There's not an awful lot to bite into throughout the course of the film and there's definitely a sense that it's all leading up to an upsetting revelation. In that regard the film perhaps doesn't really do enough to make the conclusion as shocking as it could be. It wasn't predicable but it didn't make my eyes widen in disbelief either. There's a chase sequence at the end which is very dark, and I mean that in literal terms. It was difficult to see what was happening but otherwise the visuals are very pleasant although I can't quite remember any artistic stand-out shots.
- Gavin Logan
'Family Dinner' is available to stream exclusively on ScreamBox April 7th