This has a terrific cast, but the people who are well-known are not the ones who give the performances that carry the film. Don’t get me wrong, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, and Viola Davis are fine. But the two stars of the film, Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich, give performances that make this thing worth seeing.
From a novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, this is a gothic mystery about a family of witches and warlocks. It would be mundane but for the magical acting and chemistry between Englert and Ehrenreich as the genre-crossed lovers. Englert and Ehrenrich are unlikely stars, not achieving their status through the normal means. Englert is the daughter of Oscar-winning director Jane Campion (for writing the script for 1993’s The Piano) and Ehrenreich was discovered by Stephen Spielberg at the bat mitzvah of a friend of Spielberg’s daughter.
While Englert isn’t Amy Adams or Naomi Watts in terms of physical beauty, her looks grew on me throughout the film. Ehrenreich has a terrific smile and I thought both of them gave wonderful performances.
Thompson and Irons and Davis are as good as they generally are. It’s just that these kind of silly tales are not my cup of tea. Even so, the production design (Richard Sherman) creates the mysterious ambience required. Ably directed by Richard LaGravanese, who also wrote the script, it’s not a scary film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s basically a love story between two attractive people facing obstacles normal people don’t face. Given that the story is preposterous, it’s entertaining enough to keep you awake most of the time.
Two girls go missing 23 years apart to the day, the first we see brutally raped and murdered by Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) while his companion Timo (Wotan Wilki) watches in shock. Thus begins a singularly unsatisfying psychological mystery, as the story picks up 23 years later after a similar disappearance of a young girl in the same spot. There don’t seem to be many normal people in this movie, as it concentrates on the psychological makeups of everyone. One of the investigating detectives, David (Sebastian Blomberg) is a weirdo who was recently widowed and is goofy throughout the whole movie. Joined by Jana (Jule Boewe), his pregnant colleague, they are helped by Krischan (Burghart Klaussner), a retired detective of the first unresolved case.
This movie has good and bad in it. The good is that it concentrates on the victims’ parents (Katrin Sass gives a particularly good performance as the mother of the first girl murdered, as do Karoline Eicchorn and Roeland Wiesnekker as the parents of the second) and the horror they have to endure, sadness that never leaves them. The bad is that it concentrates on the victims’ parents and the horror they have to endure, which makes for a terribly depressing two hours.
This is directed by Swiss-born Baran bo Odar in his debut, adapting the novel by Jan Costin Wagner. Unfortunately, bo Odar needs a lesson in pace because this drags on and on, moving slower than molasses. But he does get fine performances from the entire cast.
Most murder mysteries treat the murder cavalierly without showing how horrible the crime is and the effect that it has on survivors. Movies made like that are often a pleasure to watch because they are exciting and mysterious and the psychological and emotional effects of the murder are ignored.
So this is a rare film that shows the murder and makes the audience feel the pain. That’s all to the good. The problem is that one cannot say that one has spent an entertaining two hours when leaving the theater after watching this because it is so unremittingly depressing. In German. Shows for one week at the West Los Angeles Nuart starting March 8.