Horror Comes to Easter Supper in Family Dinner (FANTASTIC)
Title: Family Dinner
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Peter Hengl
Writer: Peter Hengl
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Starring: Nina Katlein, Pia Hierzegger, Michael Pink, Alexander Sladek
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival in 2022.
Desperate to lose weight, Simone (Nina Katlein) seeks out her famous nutritional wellness coach aunt, Claudia (Pia Hierzegger), for guidance. Aunt Claudia’s initial reluctance turns emphatic when Simone tracks down her cousin Filipp (Alexander Sladek) after he runs away one night despite his cruelty towards her at the beginning of her visit. Placed on a strict diet of nothing for the remainder of the week, Simone battles with her desire to lose weight and her need to sustain herself on no sustenance. All the while, Simone grows suspicious of the true reasons why Filipp attempted to leave and question whether she might need to do the same.
Unsatisfying horror drama Family Dinner brings little new to timely conversations.
Simi faces inner turmoil throughout the entirety of Family Dinner. Her desire for society’s ideal of beauty is at odds with her intrinsic need to survive. She knows that something is deeply wrong with her Aunt Claudia, as well as her diet, but she is overridden by her weight loss journey. As she learns to stand up for herself and others, she eventually comes out of the film learning plenty about what true strength is and what it is not.
Aunt Claudia’s need for control makes her character development all the more frightening. Control and weight loss go hand in hand, and it’s clear that for Claudia, her desire to control others supersedes what is truly best for them. In the end, she sacrifices so much for her Easter Dinner without truly understanding the ramifications of her actions or how the obsession with food and purity has consumed her life and those around her.
The entire cast does a great job portraying the difficult emotions and escalating the tension throughout Family Dinner. In a solid debut, Nina Katlein gives Simi a realistic portrayal of someone who is lonely and self-conscious without overdoing it. Her performance is nuanced in the fact that she gives Simi depth in moments like cutting a rabbit’s neck or throwing a plate of leftover food in the trash. She’s grounded, and that makes Simi all the more sympathetic and intriguing as a character.
Pia Hierzegger unravels Claudia’s sweet façade and transforms herself into a cruel and manipulative mother by the time her true intentions are revealed. Michael Pink’s Stefan is as charming as he is dangerous. He makes this most clear when interacting with Katlein, Stefan toes the line between coyly seductive and brutish. Despite limited material, Alexander Sladek vacillates between the sneering and hostile cousin and the desperate boy attempting to flee his mother’s obsession.
Beside the unrealized finale, the entire film is very predictable. There are few surprises or moments of doubt. Despite Aunt Claudia’s gaslighting, it is very clear from Tuesday on that something is amiss, yet little goes into maneuvering that challenge. The film’s slow burn does not feel earned given the unsatisfying ending. It has some consistent commentary on perfectionism and control that ultimately yields much in terms of payoff during the finale. It does succeed in making awkward family dinner conversations seem more sinister rather than unpleasant, so that is a success.
The entirety of the film is dreary and dark, clearly a nod to the down mental state of the cast of on edge family members. This bleakness works within all elements of the film, so it remains consistent. From a stylistic standpoint, it works well but it does make it difficult to stay focused given the deliberate pacing.
The horrors of food have become a hot topic in recent genre offerings thanks to the much-needed attention eating disorders have received from popular media. Family Dinner attempts to tackle this by showcasing how the absence one of human’s most fundamental building blocks of health and relationships leads to a chilly, oppressive, and empty existence. All this leaves is a predictable journey of familial destruction that has been told many times. Strong performances from the cast anchor the film in believability and keep the action moving forward to distract from the creeping pacing. Family Dinner may not be to your tastes, but it’s bound to hit the sweet spot for some horror aficionados.
Overall Score? 5/10