Auf Bösem Boden (On Evil Grounds)
Peter Koller first came to my attention with the visually rich Skrypt (review), and since that review he's kept me informed of his latest project Auf Bösem Boden (On Evil Grounds). This is his first full length feature, and it's a mightily impressive one for that.
On Evil Grounds tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, a couple with an extremely odd and combative relationship, are looking for a new home, well Juliet is at least. They come across a remote, run-down factory and she instantly falls in love with it, Romeo is less than enamoured but what Juliet wants...
However little do they know that the owner of the factory and his friend, the slimy real-estate agent, are in fact sadistic serial killers who entice couples to view the property, and then torture and murder them.
Romeo and Juliet are far from their standard victims though, and if they can stop fighting between themselves long enough, they might stand a chance.
On the press blurb that came with the screener that Peter Koller kindly passed onto me, there's the list of standard specifications about the film - Duration: 82 minutes, Format: Digi Beta, Screen Ratio: 2.35:1, etc. - and amongst them all one stands out, Genre: Drama.
I read this after watching the film and I have to disagree with that classification, in fact I would probably disagree with any classification, for you can't really classify On Evil Grounds under any genre.
The film is extremely unusual in that it flips from serious moments of tension and terror to moments of comedy, some of it almost cartoonish in its style, like a real live version of Tom and Jerry, or Roadrunner, or perhaps better to describe it as Itchy and Scratchy.
Indeed the reverse side of the press blurb, which I just turned over, has a nice poster on it, and the tag line reads "Sergio Leone meets Tom and Jerry", and that's a superb way to describe it. Oh, and don't take any of these comparisons as negatives, they are aghast and surprised positives.
On Evil Grounds is one diverse and unique film, and amongst all those changes in genre are some really interesting characters and some very clever moments.
The first thing you'll notice about this film is the visual style, Peter Koller has a superbly cinematic eye and has really picked out some wonderful shots for the film. What's great though is that they aren't all up front, or randomly scattered around, they are throughout, and just about every scene is well framed, makes great use of the 2.35:1 and does something interesting with the camera.
There are a few moments this can seem a little over the top though, and these tend to be the Tom and Jerry moments, and specifically the use of point of view shots. Yet these are clearly meant to be this way, and there's nothing subtle about them, nor is there meant to be, once you get into the groove of the film you'll be running along with it.
Now that I look back on the film the two leads aren't really Romeo and Juliet, and part of me thinks that's a shame because Aleksander Petrovic proved to be really good in Skrypt and really engaged the camera, and he does again here, unfortunately his character is often out of the action, although never far away from it. He is the centre pin of story.
No the two leads for me are the lovely Birgit Stauber, who looks great in that stripy shirt at the end, and Kari Rakkola, aka the madman. These two steal the show, both give strong performances with Rakkola being the more comic, and also extreme character. He flips from slapstick chase sequences to a couple of scenes where he portrays the total disregard for human life that we have come to expect from our on screen serial killers.
Stauber's performance crept up on me, and it wasn't until watching the closing credits that I realised just how much I had enjoyed her performance. She's feisty and has a great female role, something most female actors in Hollywood would love to have, her character is Tarantino-esque in her strength and aggressiveness, and she's damn good at it. I was totally drawn to her on screen, and was willing her on.
She has some great moments, the moment where the cop reaches out to her and she shakes her head apologetically made me laugh, another was when she was toying with saving her boyfriend as she ate the fruit from a tree. These scenes really gave some interesting aspects to her character and fleshed it out much more than the standard female caught in a killer's trap.
Each of the characters have some extra quirks to them, giving them some depth and dimension, even the passing characters have a little back story that makes them more interesting than the average on screen character, and that shows how well written the script is.
The film-makers have really tried to get something different out of every scene, each action, and just about each line, and it works. On Evil Grounds brings something unique and quite different to whatever genre you're viewing it from, because it does cover a fair few.
The colours were strong and the filming imaginative, with the camera always looking for some different angle or way of showing the action, but never going too far.
For me the comedy aspect of the film was just a little too much, and I did think that some of it went into Benny Hill territory, but for the most part it's a fun film and great to see the relationship between Romeo and Juliet develop, or rather not.
A strange, funny, tense, and hard to define film from Peter Koller. Hopefully there will be much more to come from him in the future.
Oh and one more thing, the car was superb.