The Uncle (Stric) (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. David Kapac & Andrija Mardesic (2022)
A family welcomes their uncle into their home, who has returned from Germany for the holidays.
Holidays can be a fun time to spend with your family, but if you're anything like me, there's that one person that you just can't stand to be around that insists that they're "part of the family" and belong at the get-together, regardless of how much you wish they hadn't married your sister and would stop bringing fireworks to the Christmas celebration because FIREWORKS ARE FOR NEW YEARS AND MAKING THE KIDS LIGHT THEM BY HOLDING THE ZIPPO IN THEIR MOUTH ISN'T SAFE, CHUCK! Well, apparently that feeling doesn't stop at America's borders, as first-time directors David Kapac and Andrija Mardesic explore in the new dark "comedy"/psychological horror film The Uncle.
When the bizarre Uncle (Predrag "Miki" Manojlovic) comes from Germany to Yugoslavia to visit his family for Christmas, he brings along with him new and interesting gifts to share with his loved ones: a bottle of perfume for his sister-in-law, a carton of cigarettes for his brother, a camcorder that shoots VHS tapes for the family. The Uncle immediately establishes the timeframe as the 80's and subsequently dashes that impression as Uncle's iPhone rings while at the dinner table, and Uncle leaves the room to take the call. While this isn't the first time something within the film appears to be "off," it lets the audience in on the fact that things are about to get even weirder and more uncomfortable than they initially appear. As Uncle leaves the house and the family begins to clean up, we learn that this is an everyday occurrence and that it will all start again the next day.
An outlandish mashup of Lanthimos' Dogtooth and Haneke's Funny Games with a dash of Groundhog Day, The Uncle is incredibly disturbing and wildly messed up. Kapac and Mardesic utilize an 80's-era retro-synth score and lingering camera shots to hone in on the sinister vibes, and the immersion into this unsettling family dynamic will creep out its audience about as well as anything I've ever seen. It's an incredibly off-putting film, and I say that with love. As the family, played magnificently by Goran Bogdan, Ivana Roscic, and Roko Sikavica, continue to live this nightmarish day over and over again, it's easy to imagine how you would feel if you were put into the same situation. This is a film that will leave a lasting impact on the audience's psyche like few movies achieve, and it's one that would well deserve a place on any "Most Disturbing Films" list.
Shakespeare said that all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. In The Uncle, the titular character is the director of the play, and as the family continues to act out this "perfect Christmas" in one take after the other, the drama and dread builds to a frighteningly steep crescendo, never peaking until the finale. The emotions invoked range from cringy to downright chilling, and it's hard to put into words how truly deranged these filmmakers are. It's difficult to believe that this is their first film, and I'm excited to see what else they come up with. Or I'm not, I'm not really sure. Few films take such an emotional and horrifying toll on its audience, and I am all the way here for it.
Who this movie is for: Disturbing movie fans, European horror lovers, Extended family members
Bottom line: Man, it's been a long time since I've been this disturbed by a movie. Writers/directors David Kapac and Andrija Mardesic have done a phenomenal job in their first film of cranking up the creep factor and crafting a troubling and disturbing work of art. The actors are fantastic, the story is dark as all hell, and the absurdist "comedy" hits home in all the right ways. If you're looking for a film that will bury itself into your brain and make your skin crawl, this is the one you've been waiting for. It just screened at Fantastic Fest and will hopefully be available to watch soon.