Reviews of this type of film usually include words like ‘bold’, ‘daring’, ‘fearless’ and so on, partly because of the bravery it takes to approach this type of subject matter in the forum of film, but also because you instantly exclude are large portion of your audience as soon as they here the premise. Many of you reading this will have decided not to see this film by the end of the following sentence.
‘Michael’ tells the story of an Austrian Insurance Salesman who has kidnapped a young boy, Wolfgang, and keeps him entrapped in his basement. It is strongly implied that Michael has done this for the purpose of sexually abusing the boy. If this outline doesn’t sound uncomfortable enough, the film is shot almost entirely in very long, static shots meaning you watch the story unfold in an incredibly cold, rigid way. As well as this, the film employs the type of high detail digital film that appears to have become the norm in contemporary cinema. In some recent efforts, this has been more of a hindrance than an advance for film. Films like ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ are brilliant stories performed immaculately, but because of the choice of this use of stock, they are ever so slightly too realistic, meaning they are less cinematic. When other recent efforts have shunned this for grainier stock (such as the recent and very impressive ‘Martha Marcey May Marlene’) the contrast has been thoroughly refreshing.
With ‘Michael’ however, this aesthetic has been put to it’s greatest possible affect. Rather than detracting from the film’s effectiveness, the highly detailed photography compliments the heavily unsettling pace as well as the discomfort audiences have with exploring such a character.
‘Michael’ holds the attention superbly; at times one feels so uncomfortable that they consider leaving, but the act of enduring such an experience and coming out the other side keeps you in your seat.
Upon finishing the film, a curious thought lingered. During the second half, various things happen to the eponymous lead that humiliate and belittle him to the audience. At one point, this is done to downright comedic effect. Whilst on a skiing trip, Michael falls over, loses a ski and, as the snow is so deep, is unable to regain balance. It is undeniably satisfying to see such a fall from grace for such a retched creature, but Michael is punished through similar encounters to such an extent towards the end of the film that he almost becomes a cartoonish villain, getting what he deserves. ‘Michael’ is most effective as a visceral piece of film making when it is unnerving it’s audience almost to the point of torture. Therefore, these later passages reverse some of this affect and it becomes a much lighter film at these moments.
Could one say it would have been a ‘better’ film had it remained borderline unbearable throughout? It is hard to imagine such an unpleasant experience but, sadly, because of this switch in tone, ‘Michael’ is a slightly uneven experience rather than a more direct, noteworthy piece of work.
Michael Trailer 2012