After brutal years in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp, hulking Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu) returns – with a tight-knit unit of fellow survivors of an ordeal – to Vienna a few years after the end of the First World War to find it unrecognisable – the once-mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire is broken and humbled, and he’s despised as a relic of this lost past, while surrounded by hustlers, pimps, crooks, hookers, killers and sad remnants of a bygone age. The formely solicitous concierge of his building is ‘looking after’ paintings and silver filched from his flat and makes nasty remarks about his possibly unfaithful, now-absent wife. And there’s a serial killer at work, picking off other returnees in gruesome manner – which makes Perg first the obvious suspect and then, when it emerges that before the war he was Vienna’s best detective, a natural to lead the investigation, dragging along his former sidekick-now-boss (Mark Limpach), a communist police rookie (Max von der Groeben) and a forensic scientist (Liv Lisa Fries) whose life he once saved and is now working cases because all the male coroners died.
Director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who co-wrote with Robert Buchswenter and Hanno Pinter, has form with serial killer dramas which serve as state-of-the-nation analysis – making the Anatomie films and the excellent Cold Hell. Here, he goes for a period crime feel, after the manner of The Alienist, and opts to use greenscreen and CGI sets to conjure up a nightmarish, distorted Vienna which reminded me more of Pitof’s Vidocq than The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Performances and characterisations are strong, with more than enough meat for this to serve as a series pilot, but the artifice of the setting renders it all cartoonish (a climax high up in a church tower evokes Tim Burton’s Batman), while the storyline – which does come up with a decent mystery/whodunit aspect – turns out to involve a tight-knit group of characters held together by coincidence and backstory, giving this an enclosed, claustrophobic feel.
It’s a half-and-half film – you have to get past the mode of storytelling to get into the core of interesting, engrossing material