“Worst birthday ever” doesn’t begin to cover the magnitude of what befalls our protagonist in “Goran.” Fast-rising Croatian helmer Nevio Marasovic’s third professional feature — he’s made a well-received fourth, “Comic Sans,” since this one premiered at Fantasia nearly two years ago — is not so much a psychological thriller as an emotional horror movie, in which the title character’s fortunes go from bad to unimaginably worse. Holding its poker face to the bitter end, this is a black comedy whose slow burn nonetheless eventually leaves no one unconsumed by the flame of cruel fate. Uncork’d is giving it a limited U.S. theatrical release starting this Friday.
Goran (Franjo Dijak) is an uncomplicated guy who enjoys drinking (maybe a little too often), driving a cab (in a podunk town where it’s scarcely needed) and hanging out with bestie Slavko (Goran Bogdan) at a cabin where they’ve just built a freestanding sauna. Their boys’ nights out annoy Goran’s beautiful, blind wife Lina (Natasa Janjic), and one might sympathize if she didn’t seem such a disapproving nag that we understand why he’d frequently rather pass out under another roof.
Lina’s father is widowed local timber baron Luka (Milan Strljic), who’s a bit of a bully — hence the very reluctant homecoming by brother Niko (Janko Popovic Volaric), all the more so since he’s returned from Zagreb with an apparent boyfriend in sniffy Dragan (Filip Kriza). During an uncomfortable family dinner, Lina announces that she’s pregnant. This is less than joyous news for her husband; he has reason to believe the child isn’t his. Worse still, he suspects she’s cheating on him with his own best friend.
On Goran’s birthday the following morning, his worries seem to be confirmed, triggering a confrontation that has immediate, catastrophic consequences in the form of a violent accident. Nonetheless, our now thoroughly shell-shocked hero carries on, lured to a surprise party at the cabin where all are joined by Slavko’s boorish brother Borko (Bojan Navojec).
Copious booze and drugs carry them into the next day, when … well, suffice it to say that once Marasovic and scenarist Gjermund Gisvold have sprung their first grotesque twist midway, they keep lobbing more at us with ever-accelerating speed.
There’s no ultimate message or point here, beyond affirmation that a human train wreck is a transfixing thing to behold. Yet “Goran” isn’t mean-spirited, gory, a snarkfest or most of the other things one might expect from such a baroque story. Marasovic has his actors play it all absolutely straight, as does he: The directorial style is quietly elegant with a few graceful flourishes, Damir Kudin’s widescreen cinematography emphasizing the chilly beauty of the snow-covered winter countryside.
Likewise providing useful counterpoint to the rising extremity of events is a score by Alen and Nenad Sinkauz that graduates from ambient prettiness to a low throb of internalized panic at the appropriate juncture. Overt humor is mostly reserved for some drolly incongruous preexisting pop tracks. “Goran” may in the end be simply a clever, sick joke, but it’s one that’s very astutely played.