Movies · Reviews

Der Bunker Has Fun With World Capitals and Open Leg Wounds

By  · Published on September 26th, 2015

Artsploitation Films

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

An unnamed college student (Pit Bukowski, Der Samurai) arrives at a remote house looking for quiet solitude in which to complete his thesis work, but the accommodations don’t quite match the promises of the ad. A comfortable room with a beautiful view is nowhere to be found – due to the fact that the room he’s given has no windows. It’s a sparse, cement dwelling with the bare essentials of a bed, a desk, a chair, and a lamp. He rents the room anyway, but it’s not long before the family in residence begin imposing their particular idiosyncrasies on him.

The head of the household, Father (David Scheller), tallies up every little expense from second helpings of dinner to napkins used and discarded, and he uses that growing debt to insist that the student pay it off by tutoring his young son, Klaus (Daniel Fripan). “Young” is something of a misnomer as Klaus acts like a child but appears to be quite a few years older. Mother (Oona von Maydell) meanwhile dotes on not-so-young Klaus in some uncomfortable ways and takes advice and instructions from a wound on her leg – a wound named Heinrich who is actually an alien visiting from a galaxy far, far away. The “For Rent” ad most definitely failed to mention Heinrich.

The setup of writer/director Nikias Chryssos’ feature debut, Der Bunker, begins every bit like the the setup to a terror-filled experience featuring abduction, torture, and peculiarly German abominations, but it’s clear very early on that horror is not the intention here. Instead, while still fairly disturbing, the film is actually an unsettling, quirky, and weirdly humorous look at the pressures put on the young to succeed.

The student is here due to his own pressures to make something of himself, but it’s not-so-young Klaus who takes the full brunt of the grown-ups intentions and desires around him. When the tutoring job is passed to the student it’s understood that results are mandatory, but they’re hindered by the fact that Klaus is something of an idiot. It’s not long before the student takes Father’s suggestion and begins using corporeal punishment to enhance the lessons, and while the results seem to speak for themselves it’s clear that not everyone shares the “ends justify the means” mentality.

Chryssos’ commentary on parental pressures is never heavy-handed and is allowed to exist beneath a surface layer of just plain weirdness. The family is clearly a bit off, but just as visible is their affinity for one another. There’s a sweetness here alongside the vaguely threatening eccentricities that leaves viewers uncertain at any given moment if they should be enjoying the family’s warm embrace or fearing what the wet wound on mother’s leg is going to have her do next. It’s easily the most creatively disturbing use of an open leg wound since David Cronenberg’s Crash.

The true heart of the film – the bizarre, unconventional, and seemingly just plain wrong heart of the film – is the bond that develops between Klaus and the student. The latter grows to be protective of the boy, and it’s clear that Kalus feels reciprocal on that front. Acting is fine across all four leads, but that developing relationship works mostly due to Fripan’s risky performance. He’s an adult essentially playing a child, but while much of it is done (successfully) for laughs it’s never at the expense of impersonating the mentally-challenged or even a Dumb & Dumber-like persona. Klaus is simply a kid. Of sorts.

A slim running time doesn’t allow much room for a deep or heavy exploration of the film’s themes, and that lightweight nature is ultimately what holds the film back from earning a meatier appreciation. It teases a scenario, subverts it, and then hints at a subtext without real critique. That missing weight isn’t mandatory by any stretch though, and for a first feature Chryssos shows a capable hand at surveying the confined geography of the house and its inhabitants.

Der Bunker is an oddly sweet and frequently funny comedy in the trappings of something darker. There are disturbing moments throughout, but they’re couched in a quirky warmth that has us smiling even as the knives come out. Character beats, laugh out-loud jokes, and an endearing unpredictability make for a fun, fast, lightweight watch that offers Americans a glimpse at a typical German family. Probably.

The Upside: Disturbingly funny; occasionally surprising and warm

The Downside: Ultimately lightweight

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.