My notes on Die Hölle (Cold Hell)
Stefan Ruzowitzky of the Anatomie films returns with a Vienna-set, hard-edged thriller in which another tough uncoventional woman is pitted against a psychopath who’s also the embodiment of misogynist male privilege – it’s a twist that both characters are Muslim, Thai-boxing taxi driver Özge Dogruol (Violetta Schurawlow) and smooth diplomat Saeed el Hadary (Sammy Sheik). The key moment comes when Özge realises that the specific torture – involving skinning and boiling oil – inflicted upon a series of women in different countries is derived from a passage in the Koran describing the punishments of hell and the cop on the case responds with ‘so the killer’s a Muslim’ and she snaps back with ‘no, he’s a maniac’. It’s a controversial angle for a pretty straight-ahead psycho movie, but the film invests its Turkish-Austrian heroine and her extended, not-always-sympathetic family and their associates with depth.
Özge has fled an abusive father who’s now housebound but still a brutal terror to his wife, whereas cop Steiner (Tobias Moretti) lives with his just-going-senile professor father (Friedrich von Thun) – who is rambling and incontinent, but also can’t just be told not to give out the address to any plausible serial murderer who uses a stolen cell-phone to call up and ask for it. The hook is that Özge witnesses one of the murders in her cramped apartment building, but can’t initially get police protection – when the killer slaughters Özge’s cousin (Verena Alternberger) by mistake, the heroine also has to take care of the woman’s toddler Ada (Elif Nisa Uyar) even as she dodges more murder attempts and tries to find a safe bolt-hole until the crisis blows over. The only description she can give of the suit-and-tie killer is that he looks ‘ordinary’ – which leads to an interesting, tiny lapse of policing as the cops fail to realise that ‘ordinary’ to here doesn’t necessarily mean European.
It’s a violent movie, and not free of all the tiresome baggage of contemporary woman-in-peril cinema – I could do without ever seeing again a tied-up woman being battered by a man who whines ‘look what you made me do’ even in the context of a complete condemnation of this sort of behaviour and attitude. But Schurawlow is good as a Turkish-Austrian heroine who doesn’t adhere to anyone’s cultural stereotypes but also isn’t an unbelievable superhuman – that she isn’t just up against a lone madman is demonstrated in a terrific chase-fight scene on a crowded metro train as she lays into the besuited, respectable-looking serial murder which such harpy-like vehemence that bystanders assume she’s in the wrong and haul her off so he can make a getaway. Note also the unstereotyped thumbnail characterisations of the cop and his doddering (but not stupid) father – the policeman collects classical piano music on vinyl and his academic father still upbraids him for being too stupid even to get into music school – and of Özge’s family.
Like a lot of contemporary Euro-thrillers, it has a murky, sickly look – Özge drives a battered cab mostly by night and through concrete canyons, and while this Vienna includes a mention of locations from The Third Man and the UN HQ the setting is mostly grubby concrete and musty apartments.
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