Review: Breeder

Director: Jens Dahl

Stars: Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Signe Egholm Olsen, Morten Holst

The cosmetics industry is worth billions; from the pastes and poultices we use the create the brief illusion of youth through to surgical procedures designed to enhance or preserve. To freeze time. Jens Dahl’s ice-cold, slow-burn body horror counters that, while some people will go to extremes to remain forever young, the business of manufacturing their fleeting miracles is just as merciless and invasive. 

Middle-class couple Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) and Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen) are at the forefront of this cutthroat business. Thomas is on the precipice of a major new unveiling – a treatment referred to as Resurrecta – which has proven effective at reversing the aging process in men. His ethically bankrupt lead scientist, Dr Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen), isn’t about to wait for government approval to start work on the next phase of her research. When the fountain of youth is at stake, time is everything.

Mia’s suspicions are aroused when a local Russian au pair, Nika (Eeva Putro) goes missing. When curiosity leads her unwittingly into Dr. Ruben’s prison-like compound, she joins the cavalcade of test subjects hidden inside. Thomas’ arrival promises merciful intervention. Imagine Mia’s horror when she discovers he has no intention of releasing her. Dr Ruben’s tales of untold riches have caused him to trade away both his affection and morality.

Dahl casts much of his film in a coarse yellow light, giving an exaggerated sense of sickliness to proceedings. Meanwhile, the ‘kennels’ in which the prisoners are kept are bathed in murderous red. Just as Breeder makes mortifying business out of turning back the clock, so it feels like a throwback itself. There’s more than a whiff of mid ’00s torture-porn about it all, from the decidedly unsanitary facility which Mia finds herself in, to the grueling practices that occur there. Trends in horror do tend to be cyclical, and with Chris Rock’s re-imagining of the Saw franchise right around the corner, Dahl’s film might be well placed at the front of a second wave. Quite whether modern audiences will have the stomach for it remains to be seen. 

Before things turn ugly (or uglier), we’re invited to know a few curious details about Mia. Chiefly her dual (and sometimes combined) interests in dressage and S&M. Unfulfilled by Thomas, we watch as she masturbates with the spurs of her stirrups pressing into her buttocks. This scene adds shade to her character, but it also frames some of her responses later in the picture. The stark difference between pain administered on one’s own terms… and the opposite of that.

When they come, Dr. Ruben’s treatments are queasily gynecological; her interactions with Mia suggestive of both rape and a kind of surgically-realised gender betrayal. There’s a grim edge of sexual threat that courses right through Breeder, making it uncomfortable viewing long before its eruptions of violence. This is a dark and hard exploration of the more craven side of human nature. Things get tough, and the film doesn’t so much find momentum as it does slowly submerge us in hopelessness. 

Soon after wandering into danger, Mia is branded like cattle by a man (Morten Holst) who further degrades the ordeal by pissing on her newly singed flesh. Dahl’s film acts as an uncomfortable reminder of the decidedly inhumane practices subjected upon animals throughout the last century all in the name of vanity and progress. Without a single animal in sight, Breeder becomes a stern condemnation of such cruelty and – with its cruelest characters pointedly nicknamed after beasts – an acute outcry against hypocrisy. Danish cinema may have found its new chief misanthrope.

 

 

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