Fantasia Fest 2009: 'Must Love Death' Review


I've now seen Andreas Schaap's certifiably insane Must Love Death two full times ... and I'm still not completely sure what to make of it. My first reaction to the crazy German import was this; "Now I know what a Saw sequel directed by Joe Dante would look like." But I had to spin it one more time in preparation for this review, and now I say this; 'Must Love Death is (I think) a spot-on and rather trenchant satire of two distinctly Americanized sub-genres: the wimpy romantic comedy ... and the hardcore torture horror flick'. And get this: Both halves work!

Poor Norman (Sami Loris) is having a rotten week. He hates his job, he has no real friends, and he's nursing a massive heartbreak. So logically he plans to commit suicide -- but he can't seem to do the deed on his own. Fortunately (?) Norman has come across a group of three additional suicide wannabes, and he starts meeting with them to plan their four-way kill-off. Aha, but there's a twist. Turns out that not all of the "suicide clubbers" are actually interested in self-murder. They're actually looking for someone who wants to die ... so they can kill him. Horrifically!

But then there's another colorful contortion, the one that vaults Must Love Death into festival-fave category (instead of simply staying stuck as an admirably bizarre experiment). Without even trying, Norman's found a great reason to live! (Several, actually!) Through the use of cleverly-mounted flashbacks we learn that Norman has recently discovered much to live for. Potential success as a musician is one thing, but he has also become smitten with a local waitress named Jennifer (Manon Kahle). So as the pain and gore quotient rise in section A, we're treated to an amusingly contradictory story in section B. And the more we learn of Norman's new successes ... the more we want him to escape from the blood-drenched torture chamber!

Toss in some divertingly over-the-top performances, a visual audacity that will appeal mostly to horror fans, and a quick, snappy pace that wastes little time while doling out the strangeness ... this just might be this year's "big genre discovery" for the illustrious Fantasia Film Festival. Shot almost entirely in Germany (but presented entirely in English), Must Love Death feels like a savage tongue-in-cheek skewering of the endless tropes, stereotypes, and conventions found in American rom-coms and gore-heavy horror flicks -- and yet it's also an affectionate lampoon. Somehow.

Both strangely sweet in its lighter moments (thanks mainly to a pair of excellent leads) and effectively GROSS in its darker ones, Must Love Death is certainly not for all tastes, but as a guy who calls Very Bad Things a powerfully underrated flick, I'd call it a bright, ballsy, and unexpectedly bizarre German import. Must Love Death makes most pitch black comedies look like kids' cartoons ... and I mean that as a rather enthusiastic compliment.