In the small farming community in Frondenberg, there is a feral boy who lives in the woods and has an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Anyone who ventures into the forest will not be leaving alive. This problem raises the concerns of one Inspector Stefan Heckle who is on the case to prove the existence of this creature-boy and capture him alive. However, this creature-boy has more to worry about when a woodland fairy warns him that if he does not change his ways, he himself will be consumed by the evil darkness that inhabits the forest.
Before I had even watched the trailer to Isaac Olsen's (director of "Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble") film, "Ich Hunger", I had an immediate interest in the movie due to it being a modern take on German expressionism. You'll see some minor influences from expressionism in a few certain movies but overall it's not a cinematic style that's often used anymore. With that said, I did find it hard to have any expectations for what "Ich Hunger" would be when the trailer opens up with an image of doll hands that appear to be playing the piano to the music we're hearing. Comical, obviously, but I wasn't sure if that was an indication that the movie was going to be taking the piss out of things such as arthouse cinema or what, but I was still curious, regardless.
There is a legend of a feral boy who roams the woods in the small farming community of Frondenberg and while there is little proof of his existence, locals fear this creature-boy due to his insatiable hunger for human flesh. That's when Inspector Stefan Heckle steps in; tracking the creature for years, Inspector Heckle plans to resolve the disappearances of the Frondenberg's townsfolk by capturing this wild and untamed human. Remaining blissfully unaware he's being hunted, the creature-boy continues on with his ways until a chance encounter with a woodland fairy prompts him to repent his wicked ways of eating people. Will this boy be able to redeem himself before he's captured, or worse, is consumed by the evil entities that dwell within the darkness of the forest?
I was very curious about "Ich Hunger" but I will admit that I was very worried going into the movie that it was going to be more of a silly and stupid movie that spends it's time being "self-aware" and making fun of itself. Considering that seems to be the ongoing trend amongst the independent film community and watching that particular scene with the doll hands in the trailer, it seemed like a strong possibility. Thankfully, that was not the case at all. "Ich Hunger" has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor to it also never seemed to be afraid of allowing itself to be funny, there's a lot more to the movie.While Isaac Olsen may have set out to create a contemporary German expressionist movie, he ended up creating something much more organic than that.
Organic is one of those phrases I feel is often over used with movies to make them seem more important than they are, much like raw, gritty, nihilistic, etc. "Ich Hunger" has various contrasting styles and tones within it and normally that would be a problem. In those kind of situations, it often feels like the director didn't know what they were doing and is simply throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. However, with "Ich Hunger", Isaac has much more confidence in his ability and his movie and removed structures that would otherwise limit what it could be or do.
"Ich Hunger" is more of an exercise in conscious thought than narrative, much like what Luis Buñuel did with "Un Chien Andalou". So when I say the movie is organic I mean that Isaac didn't limit himself on what the movie could be by having an objective mindset by saying, "This is a movie so this is what it has to have and what it has to be in order to be a movie." In a way, "Ich Hunger" feels like a movie that almost made itself.
Not unlike what Adam Rehmeier did with "The Bunny Game", or Trevor Juenger with "Coyote" and even Film Bizarro's own Ronny Carlsson with "Goodbye, Little Betty" and "Creature 2013".
And I'm not trying to compare Isaac's film to those others, but they all have a similarity in direction that allowed them to have confidence in their ideas and material where they weren't afraid to allow their films to make their own paths. Instead of having the contrasting styles and tones cause conflict, it allows them to work together and blend almost seamlessly. Even though there is a consistent layer of humor, it never lessens the quality of the minimalist and experimental nature of the movie. "Ich Hunger" even has a Disney-esque whimsical nature to it (musical number and all) yet none of these contrasts ever become distracting or causes you to be pulled out of the movie. Somehow, SOMEHOW, it genuinely feels like these things, such as the humor and whimsical moments, should be there without question.
In an interview by Beamont Baumgartner, Isaac Olsen discusses his own personal philosophy behind "Ich Hunger" and said something that I found interesting: "I think there should be more movies like music, not as in a musical or just pure tones and color swatches, but simple visual or narrative themes that are elaborated and expanded upon. That's why it's sort of like Jazz. It's meant to surprise you…I want to dance around on existing themes and do some exploration, like a solo or something. How you re-interpret a standard riff or image and where you take it is what is important."
Now I hate to use a director's own words to review his movie -- that's just lazy -- but I cannot possibly come up with a better analogy to describe a movie like "Ich Hunger" than comparing to something like Jazz. Much like the musical style, it can feel chaotic and random, but when open yourself up to that willingness to be unrestrained do you find the brilliance in what it is that you're experiencing. You can see the order in the chaos and discover that there is an actual design to what is being created.
"Ich Hunger" is one of those movies that will have a very small and particular audience due to the lack of a typical structure and the broad range of styles that it carries. The fact that it is able to go from heavy minimalism to brightly colored abstract and surreal imagery, while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, is why I was amazed and fascinated by the movie. I was also amazed because the cinematography in the movie is absolutely gorgeous; he really captured the setting of the movie so well that it the movie truly becomes reflective of the expressionist style he was going for (there's also some Soviet arthouse flair in how Isaac filmed the environment). And one of my favorite aspects about the visuals is classic animation style that's used in a few scenes that is incredibly impressive.
Isaac Olsen walked a fine line with "Ich Hunger" as it could have easily been disastrous when he included things such as an almost-campy noir subplot and a Disney inspired musical number, with the more experimental and artistic styles in the movie. Somehow though, he was able to pull it all together into one movie that has an oddly natural feel to it, even with it being as absurd as it is.