Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Sami Loris, Manon Kahle, Jeff Burrell, Peter Farkas
Directed by Andreas Schaap
Breakups can be brutal, we all know it. Who hasn’t been unexpectedly thrown to the curb and left in the depths of the dumps at least once in their lives? But hope springs eternal – you just never know when your true love will come crashing into your world. In Must Love Death, you’ve got a heartbroken guy who is about to top himself because he’s so distraught, and out of nowhere the girl of his dreams comes screeching around the corner and knocks his vulnerable heart senseless. Literally. The only catch is that this beauty is the girlfriend of a very significant cock-blocker, an ego-maniacal TV star and self-proclaimed musical recording artist. Wackiness ensues as destiny takes its course and true love struggles to prevail.
Yeah, that’s the framework of a classic chick flick, a story of love found in the weariest and saddest of circumstances, with those glimmering rays of promise shooing away the desperate thoughts and imbuing the narrative with all kinds of cute and tender cues of “togetherness”… the thing is, with Must Love Death you’ll need to bring out the hankies for reasons you might not immediately be expecting. After all, wincing at scenes of explicit torture can bring about tears of a different type than those born of emotional connection to matters of love.
And unfortunately, here’s the conundrum I face in reviewing this movie. What can I tell you about this heart-wrenching love story without ruining all the disgusting surprises? Not much. This is a movie better belly-flopped into minus the knowledge of how far you’ll fall before splatting into the mayhem and having your cerebral innards split from the impact.
Because believe me, you’ll see more bone crunching, toolbox eviscerating, and inventively sadistic moments of torture and torment than you’d ever expect from the first act of this story. And the odd part of it is that it somehow remains humorous. Why on earth, in the context of a sweet and endearing love story, would it ever be funny to see a head blown off or an arm nailed into a board with an ironsmith’s hammer? Or for that matter being forced to step on a screwdriver to save a damsel in distress from being chopped into pieces before your eyes? That’s not even close to the excess of what goes down either. In Must Love Death, these gruesome visuals exist in one of the more blackly humorous first film efforts you’re ever likely to see. Andreas Schaap, the guy who made this, is a name worth keeping an eye on.
To be fair to genre audiences, as far as horror concepts, there isn’t much you haven’t seen before here. You’ve got victims worthy of empathy being menaced and tormented and killed violently. You’ve got less-than-likable victims getting the same. And you’ve got some really brutal and unforgiving nasty types who revel in dishing out the worst in the worst kind of ways. What is cool about this story is that it is structurally sound in ways that work very well. At the outset you are given multiple scenarios that seem unrelated, each with their own uneasy or disarming hooks, and gradually it all comes together and makes sense. And I stress “sense” in ridiculous terms, because this movie is way over the top. But it does all come together and shows a tactful and informed approach to storytelling.
But it all sounds like a bunch of hooey when I put it that way. Trust me, you’ll be seeing things in this film that are extremely gross, violent, and just plain uncalled for. The reason it all seems viable and worth championing is that Andreas Schaap kept a cartoon-ish veneer in the aesthetic throughout, never took things too seriously, and never waited too long to stab into the grotesque. It’s also noteworthy production-wise that this nasty and relentlessly gory story, set in the USA, was shot almost entirely in Germany. By a graduating film student no less, on a shoestring budget. And you would never guess it, not in the locations and actors, and definitely not in the filmmaking skills on display.
Multitudes of amusing characters, a great cinematic look, extreme violence galore, cool retro-sci-fi genre satire, and all around funny as hell… one of the best first directorial efforts in the contemporary horror genre that I’ve seen.
4 out of 5
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