The Praying Mantis

An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in "The Praying Mantis," a sleek, expertly played black comedy that's further proof, after Florian Flicker's offbeat thriller "Hold-Up," that something tasty is stirring in Austria's cottage film industry.

With:
With: Christiane Hoerbiger, Udo Kier, Jan Niklas, Simon Schwarz, Ursula Koban, Peter Faerber, Klaus Ofczarek, Gerhard Ernst, Tanja Petrovsky, Rainer Egger, Gisela Theisen, Peter Hugo.

An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good chance at grabbing some theatrical prey beyond German-speaking territories, with festival exposure providing a good extra platform. Locally, pic hit theaters March 9.

In look and flavor, “Mantis” strongly recalls the several adaptations of German novelist Ingrid Noll’s dark comedies featuring murderous women, especially Rainer Kaufmann’s “The Pharmacist.” Paul Harather’s good-looking direction is less De Palma-ish than Kaufmann’s, but equally cinematic and well-tooled.

Christiane Hoerbiger is terrific as Trixi Jancik, a still-trim grandmother who escapes her dull home life with Siggi (Klaus Ofczarek), a model airplane enthusiast, by dressing up in elaborate duds and gambling her grocery money at the racetrack. You know the pic is not going to be your average middle-class Austrian drama when she’s spotted one day at the track by Karli (Peter Faerber), a sleazy friend of her husband’s, and she calmly gives him oral sex to ensure he’ll keep her secret.

The Mephistophelean Karli claims Siggi has 1 million shillings ($70,000) stashed away in his savings account, and Trixi, who’s just about had enough pandering to her piggish husband, poisons his favorite cake with a deadly dusting of ground-up pills. Unfortunately, Siggi’s horde turns out to be considerably less than expected, so when a tubby widower proposes to her, Trixi soon ties the knot — and puts him six feet under, too.

This should clear the way for Trixi to marry the handsome and gentlemanly country squire, Ulrich (Jan Niklas), whom she’s meanwhile met at the races. But when Ulrich mysteriously disappears, Trixi gets sidelined by an amorous advance from Julius (Udo Kier), a weirdo artist who’s into S&M at his sprawling Schloss.

There’s also the annoying problem of Karli, who’s on to her and demanding a large sum for his silence.

What could have become repetitious is saved by Hoerbiger’s wonderfully calibrated performance — slipping back and forth from grande dame to icily ruthless serial murderer, with the occasional expletive slipping from her tight lips — and Harather’s technically smooth direction, enhanced by Fabian Eder’s lensing (all deep blacks and rich colors).

Gallery of slightly exaggerated characters, all riffing on Austrian stereotypes, is played with consummate skill by the whole cast. And small setpieces — Trixi and Julius’ encounter, an afternoon tea date with the wary Karli, and the gruesomely funny disposal of one victim — maintain interest over the admirably tight running time.

Technical credits are equally smooth in all departments.

The Praying Mantis

Austria

Production: A Filmladen release of an Allegro Film production. (International sales: Allegro, Vienna.) Produced by Helmut Grasser. Directed by Paul Harather. Screenplay, Susanne Freund, Gerda E. Grossmann, Harather.

Crew: Camera (color, Super-35 widescreen), Fabian Eder; editor, Andreas Kopriva; music, Mona Davis Music, Franco Tortora, Tom Batoy, Amadeo Tortora; art director, Elisabeth Klobassa; costume designer, Thomas Olah; sound (Dolby SRD), Kopriva, Bernhard Maisch; assistant director, Fritz Noltmann. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 15, 2001. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Christiane Hoerbiger, Udo Kier, Jan Niklas, Simon Schwarz, Ursula Koban, Peter Faerber, Klaus Ofczarek, Gerhard Ernst, Tanja Petrovsky, Rainer Egger, Gisela Theisen, Peter Hugo.

More Film

  • Over 30 TV Projects, 40 Speakers

    Göteborg TV Drama Vision Unveils Program

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • 'Our Time Will Come' Wins Hong

    'Our Time Will Come' Wins Hong Kong Critics Prize

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • Star Wars

    Japan Box Office: ‘Star Wars’ Wins Fifth Weekend

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • Florian Munteanu to Play Ivan Drago's

    Florian Munteanu to Play Ivan Drago's Son in 'Creed 2'

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • The cast and crew of "black-ish"

    NAACP Image Awards: The Complete Winners List

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • Virus

    Eliza Dushku's Alleged Assailant Subject of Two More Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

  • 'Keep the Change' Bought by Kino

    Tribeca Winner 'Keep the Change' Bought by Kino Lorber (EXCLUSIVE)

    An aging hausfrau finds hubby-murder an intoxicating sport in “The Praying Mantis,” a sleek, expertly played black comedy that’s further proof, after Florian Flicker’s offbeat thriller “Hold-Up,” that something tasty is stirring in Austria’s cottage film industry. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, and casting an ironic eye on the country’s parochial mindset, this stands a good […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content