★★ / ★★★★
A woman calls the police because she heard a scream from an apartment a floor above hers. Little do the cops know that Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke), killer of thirteen children, resides there and they are incredibly unprepared to deal with him. Soon enough, federal agents arrive at the scene which lead to Engel’s surrender. Cut to Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring), a farmer and a man of the law, in the countryside. Although a year had passed since the murder of the Fliedler girl, he still obsesses about catching her killer.
Written and directed by Christian Alvart, “Antikörper” is quite exemplary in building a steady feeling of unease as well as bringing up questions about the inherent good and evil in all of us but when it comes to providing answers in terms of plot and philosophy, it falls flat. By the end, one looks back and assesses whether the experience has been worthwhile. For me, it is not and so I cannot recommend it.
Perhaps it has something to do with the film laying out Engel’s modus operandi so early on. Although the writing throws red herrings our way, most well-versed viewers in police drama and procedurals will most likely see through the fog without strain. I happen to fall in this category. As a result, I grew bored with its mystery even before it reaches the halfway point. While it does not lose all of my interest, I caught myself attempting to construct a mental checklist of predictable corners it will likely visit which turns out to be accurate. I relished being right but I felt neither entertained nor challenged.
Scenes that require most effort to sit through involve Engel describing in great detail what he likes to do to the pre-pubescent boys he kidnaps. Hennicke does quite a tremendous job in making us detest his character down to his very marrow. Every word that comes out of his mouth is accompanied by a sort of hiss which only highlights the evil that resides within. It is apparent that the film has taken inspiration from Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” Martens’ interrogation of Engel and the mind games that the latter imposes upon the former reflects that of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling’s: the crazed but smooth-talking criminal’s deceptive knowledge about everything even when he is behind bars and the cop, clearly out of his depth, hoping to scavenge answers because he feels his own efforts are insufficient.
There is some tension in the interactions between Engel and Martens but a sense of urgency is not always present. Notice that the music often guides us to feel a certain way during the exchanges. Why not use silence as fertilizer to enhance their lack of trust in one another as well as our own distrust in them? Also, the little tension it has is often broken by editing. Instead of staying with the killer and the provincial cop for the duration of the interview to give us as much time as possible to savor their smallest emotions, it jumps quite often to the detectives listening right next door and how they react to the dialogue. The problem is, we do not need to know their reactions because we, the viewers, function like the detectives—thereby having similar reactions—as we try to piece together the mystery.
Also known as “Antibodies,” the film is directed with blind confidence but it is not as smart as it perceives itself to be. Given its good actors and occasional interesting writing that hints at the repercussions of sexual repression, it should have offered a bleaker, more oblique, and intense experience.