Ben Simpson on Angst: Portrait of a Serial Failure

We follow a psychopath as he finishes his term in prison. He has no ambitions in life other than to commit murder and return to jail. He’s been planning this ever since he first went in, four years ago. After a failed and pathetic attempt to kill a taxi driver shortly after his release, our killer quickly exits the car and leaves his master plan behind. Stumbling across a rural mansion, things don’t get any easier as he breaks in and hides, waiting for potential victims. Four years wasn’t enough time for this master plan.

The killer (played by Erwin Leder) speaks his mind, not communicating with the outside world, but talking in voice-over, directly to the audience. This method works perfectly, transporting us into the mind of a deranged and desperate killer. It acts as a running commentary to the real-time flow of the film, adding a different dimension to the piece, heightening the images that plaster the screen.

When the victims return home (an elderly woman, her mentally-retarded wheel-chair bound son and a carer) they look doomed from the outset. They should be easy targets for the killer, but he soon loses any romanticized vision of his killings as he panics and struggles desperately for an empowerment and dominance over his victims that he never achieves. The violence is quick, painful and exhausting. The camera latches on to the characters, never giving in to the quick cuts of modern cinema. What fascinated me most was the victims never cry out for help, they never really look threatened for their lives, just puzzled and waiting for the killer to make his next move as he stacks up his failures. This is a character that has no redeeming qualities and who keeps on getting worse scene by scene.

In this sub genre, especially in Hollywood, the killer will have a certain amount of charisma about him. Erwin Leder looks as if he stumbled straight out of a mental hospital and onto a film set, his gollum like face and darting eyes only add to his frantic performance. A far cry away from the James Dean-esque Henry (Henry: Portrait of a serial killer). The killer in Angst can’t even kill properly.

The greatest achievement is the style. For a film so vile and repugnant thematically, technically it’s a work of art and true beauty. The camera work in this Austrian film is unlike anything I’ve seen from the 80′s. Techniques aren’t used for show but sparingly, creating a fluid pace flowing organically from one scene to the next, which must be credited to director (Gerald Kargl) and Cinematographer (Academy Award Winner Zbigniew Rybczynski). It’s akin to the works of early Darren Aronofsky and Gaspar Noé, pre-dating them by many years.

I find it unbelievable and very sad that this team didn’t go on to do another feature. Who knows what boundaries they could have pushed next if they got another break, it’s better to burn out that fade away I guess. All this with an eerie, brooding, and at times electro score (performed by Klaus Schulze who was briefly in Tangerine Dream who scored the highly underrated ‘Strange Behavior’) makes for essential viewing. Angst will grow in cult status year upon year.

Ben Simpson is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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