IFC Films // Unrated // $24.95 // March 6, 2007
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 16, 2007
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
There's nothing more frightening than the terror looming within the confines of a factually horrific experience. Hans-Christian Schmid's Reqiuem, the true telling of an epileptic German student in the 1970, is stripped down, raw, and void of any easy answers. Instead of relying on the excess of make-up and visual effects to convey dread, this film invokes real fear by mixing in the most terrifying of elements: humanity. Easily one of the better films about the effects of possession and demonic spirits, Requiem rises well above mediocrity due to a stunningly abrasive narrative surrounding one intoxicatingly bright star.

The Film:

Michaela's unquenchable thirst for education is pushing her to the edge of escape from her religious, oppressive family. In her early twenties, she exhibits all the vivacity of a restrained scholar at her age. Breaking free from the tightly-wound confines of her mother's grasp, Michaela starts the student's life in a university by studying pedagogy, or the curriculum leading to teacher's education. At school, with some timid help from her father, Michaela rents an apartment and starts a spark within her life. She attempts to build relationships and ventures out into the blithe existence of a college student, though consistently striding about her school and home town with a consumed presence and a desperate phobia of lonleiness.

There's a darker side to her family's stringent grasp on their bereft daughter. Michaela suffers from acute epilepsy that is moderately controllable by medication. However, when it starts to enflame within her, the aftermath is harrowing. Since epilepsy fires off abnormal triggers within the brain, a terrible result within Michaela is the presence of a darker, satanic force. Unsavory voices swirl within the young student's head with razor-like form. As the stress of school begins to mount and her life dangles on the brink of unsteadiness, these manifestations grow more sinister, uncontrollable, and destructive.

Much of Requiem's intrinsic conflict lies within a war with divine faith and a lack of God's guiding hand. Michaela's confidence doesn't lie within medicine's comfort, however. Her wavering belief trembles in the hands of God's celestial power and his priests over such calamity. It raises questions on faith without preaching or judgment of any form. The trip alongside Michaela's downward spiral whips and crashes against the walls of religious convolution. Her sanity contorts violently around these notions, twisting together the fabric of two possibilities that creates a web of puzzlement.

What makes the fabric of Michela's insanity such a trip is the factual nature of this terrifying story. This mind's plague can seep into just about anyone's psyche. It seeps into this young student's psyche, however. Nothing can be done but to sit idly by and watch this girl flail in agony. Many other fanciful horror films tickle this subject matter by invoking make-up and exaggerated decomposition of idle bodies. Instead of leaning on aesthetics, Requiem takes a relaxed, focused approach that fuels the atmosphere with humanism. Tackling a film brimming with truth isn't a sure fire recipe for success. It's got to be adapted well, reflect on strong character development, and have a steadfast guiding force as the lead.

And what a lead Sandra Hüller turns out to be. Many actors are quite capable of writhing about to an effective degree. Hüller, however, makes Michaela's role her own and crafts a restrained, unnerving persona that'll drive chills along the spine. She will only do this, however, if she sees it fit, thus demonstrating her grasp on the narrative. Sondra holds such insurmountable control over the film and its impeccable mood. It's quite obvious that Michela is naturally a strong persona. Hüller is able to giver Michaela a controlled, spectacularly crafted myriad of sensations. The subject matter is enough to invoke chills on its own; Hüller's Michaela makes the film frightening.

Requiem unfolds much like a docile, character driven incarnation of The Exorcist. Instead of carrying the film to a level of fantasy and mysticism, Requiem keeps the tone low and brimming with tangible fear. Demons won't jump out and shriek a few screams out; instead, director Schmid will make you wonder whether their hold upon young Michaela looms within her psychosis ... or something else much more ethereal. It's that personal strife that results in the prolific connection with Michaela. Though the conclusion isn't as comprehensive as desired, it still drives a steady nail home into a phenomenally crafted hybrid film. Requiem will invoke a primal, haunting fear that'll leave more than a few breathless at the finale.

The DVD:

IFC Films has presented Requiem in a standard keepcase DVD with striking coverart featuring Hüller profile. The discart replicates the same color scheme as the front.

The Video:

Requiem is presented in an anamorphic widescreen presentation reflecting the original aspect ratio of the film. This film's color scheme is quite overcast, relying on a myriad of sepia tones to convey an aged, ominous feel. It gives the scenery a dreary, lackluster tone reflective of the film's mood. The image presented is moderately clean and crisp, reflective of the film's negative used. Digital grain was evident here and there, though it wasn't off-putting in the slightest. Edge enhancement wasn't much of a problem, either. Requiem is not a visual feast, but this disc preserves the film's visual temperament quite agreeably.

The Audio:

A German 5.1 audio track matches the equally brooding visual treatment. Requiem's dialogue poured through quite well in the aural presentation. All the voices in this dialogue-driven film were crisp, clean and highly audible, though it's easier to determine this while utilizing the subtitles. The party and musical scenes, however, definitely packed a splendid atmospheric punch with plenty of lower rumbles. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

The Extras:

IFC's release of Requiem is the epitome of a bare-bones release, sadly. Only a Scene-Selection extra is available, along with a few Previews tacked onto the beginning of the film. This is a film that'd be fascinating to delve into further.


Final Thoughts:

Requiem stays authentically potent to a rich, frightening atmosphere amidst a truthful story. It's easily a step above many other films attempting to tackle this subject matter. Hüller's performance is worth the price of admission alone for her spectacularly creepy, yet pristinely honest, Michaela. Requiem comes Highly Recommended as a dramatic horror that delves into the manipulated psyche and tumultuous effects of a stringent religious upbringing upon a girl who merely wants to live her life, demons and all.

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