A mother’s protective instincts set off a string of unintended consequences in “Under the Ice,” a solid if visually plain slice of psychological family drama. This suburban tragedy, documaker Aelrun Goette’s feature narrative debut, extends certain themes, such as children and murder, that she has previously explored, adding Michael Haneke’s techniques for extremely pressurized drama. Good fest run should translate into select theatrical and vid sales in Euro and North American markets.
Homicide detective Michael (Dirk Borchardt), his stay-at-home wife Jenny (Bibiana Beglau) and their 7-year-old son Tim (Adrian Wahlen) live in a pleasantly woodsy Berlin ‘burb, and while away their free time with dinner parties and socials. With careful craftsmanship, screenwriter Thomas Stiller lays in details that are important only in retrospect, such as Michael’s tendency to work late.
After a slightly disturbing incident involving Tim and his best playmate Luzi (Nicole Mercedes Muller), the pair goes off to play in the woods. Tim returns home distraught, taking Jenny to a nearby spot in the woods where Luzi’s little body lies dead in the snow.
Even though the death was an accident, the result of the children playing a “sleeping” game, Jenny decides to protect Tim (and Michael who’s just been promoted) by making up a story to conceal Tim’s involvement. Current local spate of child killings provides ideal cover for her well-intended lies.
Pic clinically observes how Jenny’s choice triggers a series of deceptions that only make matters worse, including locking horns with Tim’s teacher Ms. Potter (Susanne Lothar), who insists that Tim meet with a child shrink after he continually misbehaves.
Meanwhile, Michael’s sleuthing brings him to the conclusion that his son may have been involved in Luzi’s death.
Goette’s interesting decision to focus almost entirely on the home setting and not observe Michael at work or Tim in class adds to pic’s dramatic pressure. Beglau, a vet of Volker Schlondorff films including “The Ninth Day” and “The Legend of Rita,” effectively asserts intense control over the film’s emotional center, with young Wahlen (who eerily resembles Danny Lloyd in “The Shining”) and Borchardt filling out a family triangle of shifting loyalties and suspicions.
Given the subject matter, filming and staging are rather uninspired, but editor Andreas Zitzmann enforces a strong, steady pace. Composer Martin Todsharow’s dull score replays rote patterns from countless previous suspensers.