An obsessive, destructive love transforms a caring husband into a bloodthirsty “Beast” in this perversely fascinating psychodrama from Danish helmer Christoffer Boe (“Reconstruction”). Playing like a cross between “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Alien,” Boe’s tightly scripted fifth feature boasts sharp dialogue, strong performances (particularly from his iconic thesp, Nicolas Bro), plenty of tense and disturbing moments and atmosphere in spades. Heading into its November domestic release with strong festival buzz, the Copenhagen-set cult thriller could roar into specialty horror markets offshore.
As spring flowers bloom, a brief prologue shows writer Bruno (Bro, providing a literally and figuratively naked tour de force) and his jeweler wife, Maxine (Marijana Jankovic, giving the impression that she would make a fine Lady Macbeth), closing on a gorgeous condo. But even in these happy moments, it’s clear their relationship isn’t exactly healthy. Bruno gives “uxorious” new meaning as he sucks on Maxine’s cut finger and rhapsodizes about having her blood inside him. “Careful,” she cautions him, “you might get a taste for it.” Uh-oh, too late.
The rest of the film unfolds in the winter of the couple’s discontent, made literal by the Danish capital’s icy streets and snowy parks. At times (especially during a disturbing S&M sex scene), Maxine seems willing to be the woman destroyed by Bruno’s all-consuming desire; at other moments, she rebels.
Increasingly maddened as he feels Maxine withdrawing from him, Bruno starts to bait her with sinister games, even toying with her mild-mannered lover (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). But as he gives into the dark side of his lovesickness, Bruno develops terrible stomach pains. It seems as if something is growing inside him.
Celebrated for his technical virtuosity and often criticized for his characters’ emotional frigidity, helmer Boe lets Bro go to town with his feelings. Meanwhile, some almost Cronenbergian vfx depict Bruno’s anguished, wildly beating heart as a big, pulsating lump of flesh. Viewers with weak stomachs take note: There are a few other moments of grisly body horror, but on the whole Boe creates a uniquely creepy psychological thriller rather than a splatter film.
Reportedly shot on a microbudget, using Boe’s own apartment as the central location, the pic benefits from fresh technical collaborators rather than the team he has worked with since film school. Elegant lensing in claustrophobic closeup by versatile d.p. Sophia Olsson (whose work here is the antithesis of the gritty realism she brought to Iceland’s Oscar submission “Volcano”) underscores the pic’s sense of unease, as do the menacing score by Sylvain Chauveau, hallucinatory cutting by My Thordal and ominous art direction by Mette Lindberg.