Till Kleinert’s indie sensation Der Samurai might be cut from the same spiritual cloth as the meta, post-modern horrors of the 1990s, but it’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. Another crowd-funding success story, proving that the genre is firmly in the hands of creators, and the most interesting things are happening well outside of studio jurisdiction.
Not since the triumph of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber have werewolves been so scrutinised. Der Samurai owes as much to fairy-tales as any of Carter’s stories, and it often bears a resemblance to the gothic splendour of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, based on the Carter short of the same name. Not only has it reinvented the werewolf subgenre, but proved there’s still bold new frontiers for horror.
Like many backwoods horror, it taps into the insular isolation of small towns, and you quickly feel cut off. It’s vividly shot, with cinematographer Martin Hanslmayr showing off his chops in constructing and framing a shot, with playful, elegant and experimental camerawork. The film has a Lynchian use of sound and images, but there is something distinctly European about it, something very German; the industrial thrum, the beautiful sparseness and the otherness.
Michel Diercks has an unnerving and compelling presence as Jakob, and you never quite feel safe in his company despite spending the entire film in his police uniform and caring for his grandmother. He’s introverted and preoccupied with a wolf that has been roaming the woodland surrounding the town. He’s fervently obsessed, like a screen killer with their own infamy. You get the sense of his repression, of a fundamental lacking in his character, and his life slowly unravels after a dramatic meeting with the titular samurai. And whether this leads to his ultimate downfall or liberation, is up for debate.
The Samurai is a mischievous and chaotic character, a force of nature sensuously played by Pit Bukowski with a dancer’s grace. He captivates and steals every scene he’s in, garbed in a long white dress and brandishing a sword. Der Samurai is a homo-erotic story of musicality, of repression, wrapped up in the guise of a gothic werewolf movie, with one toe always in traditional folklore. It’s often surreal, filled with strange humour, and utterly absorbing.
INFO: CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TILL KLEINERT / STARRING: MICHEL DIERCKS, PIT BUKOWSKI, UWE PREUSS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW