The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - DER BUNKER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD) - DER BUNKER

A student takes lodgings in the secluded bunker home of an odd family.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Nikias Chryssos

Starring: Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller

Der Bunker is pleasingly difficult to categorise. Part domestic satire, part family-horror shot with black eyed humour, Chryssos’ film is a deranged one off.

Whoever it was that stated ‘Hell is eternity trapped in a room with your friends’, clearly hadn’t watched Nikias Chryssos’ debut Der Bunker, a claustrophobic black comedy of ill manners and bad education that centres on an unassuming postgraduate who is locked underground with a family unit who make the Munsters look like the Waltons.

Pit Bukowski (what a great name!) is the student, a twentysomething scholar looking for quiet digs in order to complete his thesis on particle physics. Answering an advert for a lodger, the student discovers that digs don’t come more secluded than the bunker submerged deep in the snowy woods… and realises too late that the bunker’s madcap inhabitants don’t come weirder, either. Controlling Vater (David Scheller) makes a note whenever the student helps himself to an extra napkin or dumpling at the dinner table, tactile Mutter (Oona von Maydell) seems to be hiding more than a bad ankle under the stained dressing upon her leg, while their son Klaus (Daniel Fripan), purportedly eight years old, is actually a thirtysomething idiot manchild in kid’s clothes. Using the confined student’s cavalier attitude towards napkins as blackmail, Vater coerces him into tutoring his half-wit offspring, who, Mutter and Vater are convinced, will one day be President of the USA, despite the fact that the lad in lederhosen seems to think that the capital of the United States is ‘America’. Dead Poet’s Society this ain’t.

Der Bunker is pleasingly difficult to categorise. Part domestic satire, part family-horror shot with black eyed humour, Chryssos’ film is a deranged one off. From the snowy start, whereupon he nearly gets lost in the woods, it’s clear that the student is in hot water, and from then on in Chryssos continues to deftly pile weirdness upon weirdness, thickening  (and just about maintaining) the off kilter tone throughout the film’s 80 mins or so running time.

Shot within bright neon glows and pulses, Der Bunker applies a modern indie horror aesthetic to its dark farce, making the most of its confined, but precisely detailed, sets. This family’s home is decorated circa the 1950s, with educational standards congruous to that era; the student is expected to cane Klaus (a grown man) if his rote teaching is unsuccessful. Such importance is placed upon education that the bunker has its own classroom, which, in one of the film’s expressive uses of space and environment, is far too large for one pupil.

The film’s bittersweet humour is realised further by the four leads, whose creepy dead pan performances coordinate the increasing oddness and sell the film’s more outré leanings. Fripan’s performance as Klaus is especially superb, giving what could simply have been a comic grotesque turn actual pathos, and, like the student who is reluctant to escape because of the poor idiot’s circumstance, we too pity Klaus, who is stuck within the bunker with its chintzy throwback décor, his hand or backside caned whenever he can’t get the capital city of Azerbaijan correct. Indeed, the student initially doesn’t leave due to a sense of responsibility for his pupil, but, as the film goes on, he finds himself adapting to the strange atmosphere and rhythms of the bunker, drawn to oddly sexy Mutter and even offering himself up to Vater for a spanking in lieu of Klaus getting one.

The key to this sort of comedy is keeping the tone on track, maintaining an authentic weirdness and avoiding the oblique or annoyingly random. As part of his attempts to broaden Klaus’ learning experience, the student introduces him to a quote by Heidegger: ‘The nihilism of nothing happening is the being of being’, a clear comment on the static nature of the bunker, where the dynamics of the family, and their stubbornly conservative reluctance to develop and grow, drive this film’s entertaining strangeness. On occasion - the inevitable incest, a sub plot concerning extra-terrestrial intelligence - the preserved irony threatens to be overwhelmed, but ultimately, Der Bunker’s vision of familial hell uses both cruelty and camp to set the scene for an unsettling lesson in horror.

Der Bunker is on DVD and blu-ray August 23rd.