Throughout the film, director Markus Schleinzer takes a mannered and understatedly cool approach to the subject matter, assiduously avoiding any big dramatics. This he does almost to the point of making Michael something dull. Given the subject matter however, the cool detachment of Markus Schleinzers direction proves completely chilling. Just the opening scenes a montage of shots where we see Michael Fuith entering through his drive-in garage, the two of them sitting down to eat dinner, young David Rauchenberger asking to watch television and being told he can until 9 pm, Michael could be an ordinary parent-son drama but for the fact that the boy is being locked up in a bolted room in the cellar. Even more chilling is the complete understatement of the next scene where we see Michael Fuith exiting from the cellar and washing off his genitals in a hand basin. The nonchalance and understatement of such a scene is astonishing.
The very calm understatement of the film, the way it shows what is happening coolly and factually, like a documentary that could simply be saying This is the lives they lead, gives Michael unnerving effect. There is no attempt to make any moral judgement or take a position on what is happening the entire film is simply a series of montage shots of the life of Michael and Wolfgang. There are almost no characters other than he two of them on screen for the bulk of the film. Indeed, the film rarely ever moves beyond the tableaux that depict their lives to develop a plot. You might want to compare Michael to Hard Candy (2005), an American treatment of a very similar subject matter. Hard Candy seemed determined to hammer home the moral points and judgements in a flamboyantly entertaining way; Michael covers similar territory but works at almost the opposite extreme.
One of the most chilling scenes is the one where we first see Michael Fuith building a set of bunks in the cellar and wonder where this is going. We next see him at a go-kart rink talking to young boys. The final tracking shot where we see him walking out into the parking lot with one boy, only for the boys father to come looking for him and call out and Fuith to just keep on walking is superbly unsettling in what it implies was about to happen. Markus Schleinzer only varies from the detachment of approach to throw in a single black joke the scene where Michael Fuith repeats a line from a film he has been watching and stands up at the dinnertable to expose himself, asking This is my knife, this is my cock which do you want in you?, only to be disinterestedly rebuffed by David Rauchenberger who says the knife without even looking up from what he is eating. The films final scene holds us in great suspense as Christine Kain and Victor Tremmel do their clean-up, the camera following them through the house before the moment where she ventures down into the cellar and opens the door at which perfectly chosen moment Markus Schleinzer chooses to cut to black.
As played by Michael Fuith, the character of Michael with prematurely balding hair, cold blue eyes behind his glasses, and a lack of expression or reaction to what is happening merely an anal-retentive obsession with order is fascinating to watch. Indeed, Michael could otherwise be a character study in total anonymity. The film and Michael Fuiths performance is perfectly calculated so that we neither necessarily feel sympathy for, nor at the same time can entirely hate Michael or regard him as an inhuman monster.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)