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Berlin police apprehend the alleged killer of thirteen children, but with the possibility of lives still on the line his guilt must be proven quickly. Prime suspect Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) only agrees to speak to Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring), a small town constable whose own teenaged son is manifesting the classic early signs of a serial killer.

Antibodies: Special Edition
Ah the serial killer film, a mainstay of the 1990s, born out of the 1960s, extension of Hitchcock’s thrillers, Argento’s Giallo, and the bloodthirsty slashers of the 1980s. Criminal profiling wasn’t entirely new when author Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon in 1981. The novel was a modest success, as was the film based on it (Michael Mann’s Manhunter). When he wrote a sequel in 1988 it was a phenomenon. Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film adaptation was massive hits with critics and audiences, it swept the Academy Awards, and soon everybody had a serial killer movie in production.

But just like every other fad in history, serial killer films became tired. Studios milked the subgenre dry, and for the last decade or so killer character studies have waned. Does the success of serial killer stories in other media, like television’s Dexter or  Brian Michael Bendis’ work in comic books like Torso (soon to be a major motion picture), dictate that it’s time for movies to revisit the subgenre, or does society need a longer break?

The problem is that there are only three kinds of serial killer movies, for the most part. The first is the Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer style, which is mostly utilized by independent productions due to its exceedingly dark nature. Henry explores the psyche of the killer and often presents them as the protagonist. The second brand is the Thomas Harris style, as seen in Red Dragon ( Manhunter) or Silence of the Lambs. Harris’ stories focus on both the serial killer and the hero branded with the task of trapping the killer. This was the most popular style for studios after Silence and David Fincher’s Se7en were such hits. The third brand is the faceless killer style, where our hero hunts down a monster and brings him or her to justice. Most Giallo fall into this category, as do slashers masquerading as classy thrillers.

Antibodies: Special Edition
This brings us to Antibodies, a late German entry in the serial killer subgenre, and one that belongs directly in the Thomas Harris category. Antibodies is slickly crafted, quite well acted, but doesn’t have anything new to say about a very old hat. It’s a film made by people with real insight into the human condition and interaction, but one that’s nowhere near as cleaver as it wants to be.

Antibodies features basically the same story as Harris' first two Hannibal books mixed, plus a few bits and pieces from other popular and not-so-popular subgenre entrees. A naive country bumpkin desperate to prove himself (a male Clarice Starling) is put in front of a monstrous killer who decides to speak to him out of morbid curiosity. They establish a quid-pro-quo relationship, if the cop tells the killer something personal, the killer will give up a clue about a crime he did not commit but knows something about. The killer plays such brutal mind games that the cop finds himself in a dark and frightful place, just as Hannibal Lecter does to Will Graham. The only thing separating this film from those classics is a new final act.

The slick production values and first rate performances don't change the fact that the film ends up a German Red Dragon with an alternate ending that packs an undeniable punch (and some computer animated deer worthy of Bambi). Every emotional beat and cool moment up until the last act, which in this overlong film is more of a fourth act than a third one, is lifted from another film. Director Christian Alvart is a master thief, worthy of Brian DePalma and Quentin Tarantino, but he doesn’t do much to make the stolen images his own. There’s no irony or postmodern reflection (besides the line “What did you expect, Hannibal Lecter?”), and that makes for a rather dull viewing experience. Sometimes an exploitation film is just an exploitation film.

Antibodies: Special Edition

Video


If Dark Sky Films can make the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look better than the remake, just imagine what they can do with new material. They do very well. The film takes place in two distinct environments: the countryside and the city. The country side is rich in colour, with lush greens and warm lighting. The city is sterile and colourless, utilizing the high contrast bleach bypass process. Both environments are gorgeous. The reds of murder scenes and Engel’s blood paintings pop with richness.

There is a tendency towards edge enhancement, specifically during the high contrast scenes, but the overall sharpness and the quality of the detail is wonderful. There are a lot of extreme facial close-ups here, and if paused I’m sure one could count the pores on an actor’s nose. Noise is minimal, and grain is very fine, but there are a few instances of digital blocking, though these are not at all obvious.

However, for some reason Dark Sky has decided on burned-in subtitles, and even though I don’t plan on watching the film without them, this is always a bad choice.

Audio


Antibodies is filled with hyper-realistic sound effects. If someone’s painting with blood you will hear every bristle scrape the canvas, if someone is shooting a gun the impact will just about knock you off your couch. This mix is aggressive even when it’s trying to be subtle. The bass is gigantic and punchy, the surrounds are consistently alive with ambience, and if there is an excuse for a stereo effect it will be found. Dialogue is crystal clear. The film’s score is a mix of classical and electronic, which is more or less perfect for the film stylistically. The score is rich and warm, but with a real kick.

Antibodies: Special Edition

Extras


This is not Dark Sky’s first newer release (they rolled out Jim VanBebber’s Manson Family when they first arrived on the scene), but it’s one of their most packed discs to date. It doesn’t quite match their Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Manson Family, but it’s a solid release. In place of a director’s commentary track is a conversation with director Christian Alvart. Alvart, much to my surprise, speaks in English with a very slight accent. Not surprisingly he’s well spoken and intelligent. His words are eloquent and thoughtful enough to almost make me forget I didn’t really like the film all that much. He tries to cover his Silence of Lambs tracks, and his arguments are very well scripted, but it really doesn’t change anything. The featurette runs about thirty minutes.

‘The Making of Antibodies’ is a collection of interviews with the director and cast (in German), some on set, some obviously shot during various press tours, interspliced with footage from the film. The footage is a little on the scattered side, as opinion and view after fact and figure is generally thrown at the viewer. The editing becomes assaultive, and it doesn’t really let up, kind of like the last act of a Darren Aronofsky film. It’s also a little repetitive, especially after Alvart’s interview, but the actors and crew are smart and speak well without too much sales pitching. This featurette also runs about thirty minutes.

Antibodies: Special Edition
The deleted scenes are collected in a single feature without chapter stops. Some are mere moments and beats; others are character developing dialogue pieces. Most of the longer scenes only reinforce character traits and plot points already firmly established, so nothing is really missed. These total about eleven minutes and are followed by outtakes. In this case ‘outtake’ does mean blooper. The disc is completed with a trailer and a teaser.

Overall


So are we ready for a resurgence of serial killer character studies? The answer is still up in the air. If David Fincher has anything to say about it, the answer is a definitive “Yes”. If newcomer Christian Alvart is to be believed, we aren’t quite ready. Antibodies lands itself right smack dab in the middle of the of my score card because it is undeniably well made, and the people involved are undeniably talented, but the film itself is very unoriginal and too long for its own good. The curious should be encouraged to rent the film for its bravado pre-credit sequence alone.


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