A Frankensteinian mashup of sci-fi and torture-porn horror tropes, Danish “Breeder” is the kind of movie whose gloss of (eventual) empowerment lies awkwardly atop a story over-enthusiastically focused on women’s degradation and abuse. While there are vague pretensions toward seriousness in Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen’s screenplay and Jens Dahl’s direction, this thriller ends up discomfitingly most reminiscent of 1970s WIP (women in prison) and Nazisploitation grindhouse fare, as well as gamy mainstream serial-killer potboilers like “Kiss the Girls.” Well-made but more than a bit ick, it’s being released to stateside digital formats by Uncork’d Entertainment on Jan. 11.
Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) is an equestrian training for the Olympics. She seems more comfortable in the company of her horse than husband Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen), though the complexities of their relationship (including apparent separate sexual peccadilloes) never get more than hinted at. In any case, such nuances soon prove irrelevant when circumstances fatefully entangle his home and work life.
He’s employed as financial chief for a shadowy project by one Dr. Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen), who’s already signed up numerous superrich men around the globe for promised youth-rejuvenating treatments. But in fact her medical research is nowhere near reaching the promised results. Far worse, it seems to consist primarily of abducting fertile young women for “bio-hacking” experiments in which they’re kept in the prison-like “laboratory” of an abandoned sugar factory, strong-armed around by two leering “assistants” (Morten Holst, Jens Andersen).
When a Russian au pair (Eeva Putro) in the neighborhood disappears, Mia investigates, soon becoming a hostage herself. Thomas, hitherto unaware of the extent of the doc’s misdeeds, is somewhat stymied from rescuing his wife by virtue of a blackmail hold Ruben has over him.
Veteran TV writer Dahl, directing just his second feature, does work up a decent climactic froth of action, as the victims descend like avenging Furies upon their cruel captors. But that turnabout, as well as a lame epilogue, does little to erase the distasteful prior dwelling on branding, flogging, amateur tooth extraction, savage beatings, invasive gynecology and more. In a rare moment of scripted self-awareness, the evil Dr. Ruben shrugs off a subordinate goon’s complaints with “You’re a sadistic misogynist, and I’m letting you live out your dreams.” Too often, however, “Breeder” seems to offer a rote revel in, rather than critique of, such rapey content.
It doesn’t help that our villainess is a stock Nazi-scented mad scientist who might’ve stepped out of an “Ilsa” movie, or that her motivation appears nothing more than monetary greed. In terms of addressing issues of women’s bodily autonomy, DNA-research ethics, et al., the film offers a few buzzwords — but otherwise scarcely exceeds the political agenda of the kind of B-pic that would have placed Bela Lugosi in a lab coat and some screaming ingénue on the operating table. (Gorilla optional.)
Earnest lead performances and a sensitive English-language ballad under the closing titles do not convincingly elevate “Breeder” above a fairly low level of genre trash. Nor do the professionally solid trappings, though there’s nothing wrong in themselves with Nicolai Lok’s widescreen cinematography, Kristine Koster’s coldly moderne, then grungily unsanitary production design, Jakob Juul Toldam’s editorial pace or other major contributions.