Director-writer Christian Alvart made the serial killer thriller Antikorper/Antibodies, then had a ‘Hollywood’ spell which yielded Case 39 and Pandorum before returning to Germany and a spell of television – like seemingly everyone in the German film industry, he’s worked on the long-running cop series Tatort – followed by this big-screen adaptation of a novel by Sebastian Fitzek and Michael Tsokos. Like Antikorper, it fits easily into a contemporary Euro-thriller mode – with an overcast, drained-of-colour look as bad weather and warped minds make a compromised professional middle-aged man and a troubled younger woman forge an unlikely partnership to unravel an insanely complicated plot I can guarantee you’ll be trying to unpack for the rest of the weekend. It’s not free of that gratuitous misery and ramped-up sexual violence which has become an easily-caricatured (and even more easily criticised) aspect of the genre, but the leads are good and the suspense does ratchet up over a slightly attenuated running time.
Comic book artist Linda (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) is hiding from an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend on the archipelago of Heligoland, and flees from a couple of random creepos – which leads to her taking a tumble onto a bleak beach where she finds a corpse with ‘ERIK’ written on his back. On the mainland, short-tempered genius forensic examiner Paul Herzfeld (Moritz Bleibtreu) receives a personal message via a capsule embedded in the brain of the latest corpse on his examination table – and discovers that his estranged daughter Hannah (Barbara Prakopenka) has been kidnapped, probably by sadistic rapist Jan Sadler (Lars Eidinger). He also gets instructions to call a number, which turns out to be of a mobile phone in ERIK’s pocket, and – since a storm means he can’t get to Heligoland himself – he has to talk the unwilling Linda into (and through) performing an autopsy on the fresh corpse to fish out new clues. This involves janitor Ender (Fahri Yardim) in circumventing hospital regulations, and getting on with the gruesome business so swiftly that the ethical issues and many, many plot questions aren’t addressed.
The whole runaround has something to do with Marinek’s earlier victims, whom he drove to hang themselves, and perhaps a vengeance scheme against Herzfeld for his own part in making a shaky case against the loon. As it happens, the mechanics of the plot – which get a lot more complicated, and involve incredible coincidences and happenstances – aren’t as important as the struggles of the two trapped protagonists to get through a complicated night with several serious threats in the offing. Bleibtreu does well in the lead – as a supercool professional with a serious rage problem, Herzfeld seems to be setting himself up as a series sleuth, with a ready-made sidekick in wealthy intern Ingolf (Enno Hesse) … and it’d be nice if next time he tackled a case which a) didn’t use the repeated rapes of a series of teenagers as a minor sub-plot, and b) made some sort of approximate if far-fetched sense.