“German Angst,” a tripartite anthology of Teutonic art-inflected horror from directors Jörg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, and Andreas Marschall, is, in its vicious, oddball way, a portrait of a nation on the brink, replete with violence and fear (of Muslims, of foreigners, of sex). Though each of the three segments is quite distinct and are linked with some very brief footage of Berlin architecture, they fit together quite nicely.
Buttgereit is the best known of the three directors, (in)famous for his necrophiliac provocation “Nekromantik,” and his opening segment, “Final Girl” is perhaps the most interesting of three. With microscopic shots of skin, hair, and razor blades slicing flesh, Buttgereit gives new meaning to the phrase “extreme closeup.” “Final Girl” tells a straightforward story in a hyperrealistic way. A teenage girl wakes up, plays with her guinea pig, eats breakfast, and tortures the man bound and gagged in the next room over. Buttgereit’s patient style and unsettling details—suggestions of abuse, a radio report about a crazed Muslim man who murdered his wife, the Girl’s sad declaration that her beloved guinea pig actually hates to be held—creates an atmosphere of despair where the Girl’s acts of violence against her hostage come almost as a relief, an insidiously compelling statement on the attraction of violent retribution.
Kosakowski’s middle section, “Make a Wish,” plays like a ‘70s nazisploitation film updated for the era of the SPD. A deaf-mute couple gallivant around an abandoned building until a gang of fascist thugs starts harassing them. Via a blood-soaked, Tarantinoesque flashback—during which SS soldiers rape, murder, and smash a baby on a rock—Kosakowski explicitly links these xenophobes to Germany’s Nazi past, suggesting that hatred of foreigners (in this case Poles) hasn’t gone away; it’s just moved into the shadows. “Make a Wish” is hampered by some way over-the-top acting that makes these racist hooligans seem more obnoxious than terrifying. Kosakowski’s message ends up getting weirdly muddled—at times suggesting general misanthropy over specific anti-racism—but the finale provides an undeniably brutal kick in the teeth.
The final segment, Marschall’s “Alraune” is the film’s most traditional horror story and probably “German Angst”’s most narratively satisfying, if least adventurous, segment. In it, a man tells of his experiences at a private sex club that promises the ultimate sexual experience using the roots of the Mandragora plant. But there are, unexpectedly, horrific side effects. Marschall does a nice job of creating an erotically charged atmosphere, but the costumes, production design, and even the story itself, felt very ‘90s, like a better version of one of those softcore erotic thrillers Cinemax used to run at 2 AM. Even the movie’s conception of the internet—the man arranges to meet up with a woman he meets in an online chatroom—feels 20 years out of date. Still, “Alraune” does pull you in, and its monster effects are enjoyable. Marschall’s suggestion that the scariest thing in the world is to get exactly what you want does resonate with our contemporary moment, even if his production design is straight out of an “X-Files” episode.
Anthology films are, by their very nature, inconsistent, but each of “German Angst”’s segments is worthy, and as a whole the film is unusually well-paced. One can argue whether this movie is saying anything relevant (or even coherent) about contemporary German society, but as a bit of slightly arty transgressiveness from the heart of Europe, “German Angst” hits the spot.