Dir. Peter Hengl (2023)
An overweight teenager goes to her aunt’s farm in the hopes of losing some weight, but she begins to expect the farm’s occupants have ulterior motives.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I’ve never understood the dietary implications of Easter. As someone who grew up pretty religious, it was a surprise to me when, later in life, I learned about traditions like eating lamb on Easter Sunday or abstaining from food or other vices on Lent. The lamb always seemed a bit unfortunate, as the parallels with Jesus seemed macabre at best, and giving up vices, especially within Catholicism, felt a bit disingenuous. Family Dinner deals with these traditions through a folk horror lens, examining the holiday through an Austrian family with some, shall we say, bizarre interpretations of the familiar holiday.
Simi (newcomer Nina Katlein) is an overweight teenager who travels to her aunt’s home in the hopes of getting her guidance in weight loss. Her aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) is a successful author of diet books who is working on a new project about ancient dietary practices, and she begrudgingly agrees to help Simi in her journey, allowing her to stay the entire week through the Easter holiday. Claudia’s husband Stefan (a delightfully creepy Michael Pink) and son Filipp (Alexander Sladek) contribute to the dysfunctional family dynamic on display. Filmmaker Peter Hengl uses this bizarre family to critique diet culture and religious dogma, crafting a tale that is equal parts disturbing and fascinating.
Katlein and Hierzegger are excellent in their roles, drawing the audience into their individual neuroses with a balanced performance that completely carries the film. It’s another slowburn horror, a genre that seems to be producing more and more films with varying degrees of success. Thankfully, this is one of the stronger entries as of late. Hengl clearly has a directorial vision, and his film is beautiful in a melancholic, overcast sort of way. The sound design is fantastic, with the background of stomachs gurgling and whispery dialogue contributing to the uneasy feeling that permeates the entire film. It’s also not a particularly surprising film, and it’s one whose ending will be guessed well before it appears on-screen. The film is a journey rather than a destination, however, and it’s a journey well worth taking to get to the final act. If slow burn horror is your bag, this is a pretty enjoyable effort that might well give you the creeps.
Who this movie is for: Slow burn horror fanatics, Folk horror lovers, Jenny Craig faithful
Bottom line: Filled with great performances but with an unsurprising finish, Family Dinner is a well-made Austrian horror with enough dread throughout to hold your attention. Director Peter Hengl does a great job of crafting a gorgeous film with an interesting story, and Family Dinner is a movie that will get under your skin and stay there. It’s an unsettling film, leaving its audience with a deep sense of unease despite its relatively predictable outcome. It’s well worth a watch, and it’ll be streaming on Screambox later this month.