'Cuckoo' review: Hunter Schafer soars in kooky body horror gem

Tilman Singer’s Cuckoo is a fun midnight genre romp that works despite its goofiest elements. A mountainous horror film reminiscent of The Shining — albeit with far more overt body horror — it follows the travails of a family of four as they take up residence near a fancy lodge in an isolated corner of the German Alps.

When strange sounds emanating from nearby forests begin to have bizarre bodily effects on some of the guests, moody 17-year-old Gretchen (Hunter Schafer of Euphoria) ends up stumbling upon an ongoing investigation into something both silly and sinister. With its tightly wound atmosphere and an impeccable ensemble that throws everything at the wall, Cuckoo emerges as a largely unique work despite its many familiar elements, thanks in part to its increasingly twisted implications surrounding gender and biology. It’s incredibly strange and deviously fun.

What is Cuckoo about?

Before introducing its central characters, Cuckoo‘s mysterious prologue orients the viewer in a realm of familial and bodily dysfunction. In a rural cottage in the dead of night, silhouettes of an unhappily married husband and wife yelling at one another dovetail into shots of a teenage girl — presumably their daughter — waking up in her bedroom and stepping outside to avoid the unpleasantries. Suddenly, a prolonged screeching somewhere in the distance begins to take hold of her, as she writhes and seemingly begins moving against her will.

For any explanations for these oddities, you’ll have to wait well over an hour into the film’s mere 102 minutes. In the meantime, Singer crafts an alluring character drama the moment he introduces his central cast. As Luis (Marton Csókás), his wife Beth (Jessica Henwick), and their selectively silent daughter Alma (Mila Lieu) drive their family car up the hillside to their new home on a lush resort, Gretchen — Luis’s daughter from a previous marriage — rides behind them in the moving van. This dynamic conveys an immediate sense of disillusionment with the family unit. Where Luis, Beth, and Alma dress in fancy, earthy sweaters and put on polite fronts, Gretchen’s loose, baggy clothing and flailing, irritable body language set her apart. She feels like an outsider, rejected by her own clan, and she wants nothing more than to return to her mother’s home in the U.S.

Once the family arrives, they’re greeted by the resort’s owner, Mr. König (Dan Stevens), a cartoonishly seedy sort clearly hiding something twisted beneath his welcoming demeanor. It’s as though Stevens had been directed to play Victor Frankenstein by way of Christoph Waltz. His vibes are immediately rancid and uncanny, lacing every exchange between him and Gretchen’s family — especially his interest in young Alma — with a sense of leery possibility. It feels like anything can happen in Cuckoo, even before anything actually does.

König eventually finds Gretchen a receptionist job at the lodge nearby, though he gives her strict instructions not to stay too long after dark. Gretchen, being a snotty, unhappy teenager, does exactly as she pleases. But when she bicycles home late one night, she ends up being chased by a shadowy figures only seen in glimpses. Gretchen’s pursuer inexplicably appears to be a well-dressed mid-century starlet, “normal” in every way except for her ferocity and her glowing red eyes.

No one seems to believe Gretchen, despite her scars and injuries from the encounter. That is, no one except for local police detective Henry (Jan Bluthardt), who not only takes it upon himself to protect Gretchen, but inexplicably enlists her help in what appears to be an ongoing investigation. Before long, Cuckoo becomes a bizarre buddy-cop movie of sorts, with each scene resulting in a more ghastly injury for Gretchen, akin to Homer Simpson plummeting off a cliff and hitting every branch on the way down. It’s a treat to watch, even before the film offers any indication whatsoever about what’s going on.

Cuckoo‘s eerie filmmaking is incredibly effective.

A nestling rejected by her own family, Gretchen becomes the center of a distinctly avian-themed work of sci-fi horror. Not only does König have an affinity for discussing the biology and sociology of specific birds, but the peculiar screeching that seems to rattle Gretchen and her half-sister has a bird-like quality, too. Its arrival is also usually marked by dim, disconnected close-ups of a woman’s vibrating chest, as though it were a kind of mating call.

However, even when the film isn’t directly confronting this animalistic theme — and its eventual implications about “natural order,” which comes up plenty in the dialogue — Singer’s roving camera never stops searching empty spaces for a place to land and perch itself. Its slow zooms and push-ins feel mischievous. The film has few (if any) traditional jump scares, because it depends largely on inducing a creeping dread, both visually and thematically, as its tale of conspiracies and experiments unfolds.

Much of the tension Singer builds springs from the doubts and reflections he carefully seeds into his script. From the familial rejection and personal isolation felt by Gretchen to her brief, liberating respite when she meets and secretly falls for a boyishly dressed older lesbian at the resort (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey’s magnetic Ed), the specter of conformity and the confines of nuclear family loom large over every scene. Even Cuckoo‘s monstrous, red-eyed woman has a distinctly and traditionally feminine appearance, adding to the sense that deep-seated notions of gender are forever biting at Gretchen’s heels. Eventually, when the plot’s specifics come into view — via some rather clunky exposition — these notions are not only further centered, but become perverted in delightful ways. You’ve never seen a film make vaginal discharge seem this sinister.

That Schafer is a trans woman only enhances this subtext, even though her character’s identity in this regard goes unmentioned. However, what she brings to the role is much more exceptional than nominal representation, given the amount of emotional legwork involved.

Hunter Schafer delivers an incredible performance.

Cuckoo doesn’t always work. It’s rife with jagged edges and thuddingly obvious metaphors about the long-standing, deep-seated nature of gendered expectations.. However, what’s practically indisputable is Hunter Schafer’s arrival as a major movie presence, writing entire treatises on the body and the way it keeps the score, even in her stillness.

Take, for instance, the positioning of her hands at her sides, stiff and motionless except for a few twitchy movements of her fingers. At first glance, it’s textbook teenage “awkward,” a choice that flirts with self-parody, until its function becomes clear. Gretchen happens to carry a switchblade for her protection, and when she finally swishes it around, the motion of her fingers suddenly makes perfect sense. These movements are mirror images of one another, as though Gretchen were always on guard, always at the ready to defend herself from bodily harm. Schafer brings a sense of paranoia to every frame, as if Gretchen had previously been a victim of some sort of targeted harassment — once again, enhancing the film’s queer subtext without uttering it out loud.

Equally noteworthy is the way Schafer navigates the emotions of simple domestic scenes, accepting her father’s rejection — and his seeming preference for Alma, his more traditionally feminine daughter — with a sense of resignation, as though it were her lot in life. Her teenage jadedness is always rooted in something deeply, fundamentally human that lives just beneath the surface of her body language, like she’s telling the story with her arms, her shoulders, her eyes.

That she goes to some difficult emotional places in addition to this, places that require enormous on-screen vulnerability, is just the cherry on top. It’s also what prevents Cuckoo from flying entirely off the rails when it gets too caught up in its own ridiculous lore (which, unfortunately, never reaches the freakish apotheosis it seems to promise). Whatever the film’s more overt horrors, whether its chilling atmosphere or its attempts at amusing moral and visceral obscenities, they’re all bound by Schafer’s increasing physical and emotional despondency. She doesn’t just save the movie. She is the movie, making it all the more remarkable to watch.

Cuckoo was reviewed out of the Berlin International Film Festival; the movie will open in theaters in the U.S. on May 3.

By 111 Tech

Hey Buddy! I am Jassmine and I Just Started this website to update peoples about latest technology gadgets , accessories , smart phones and much more about technology. I am experienced in technology field and also i have my team working together on this website to provide all our users with accurate and valuable information. Stay With Us, Stay Updated. Keep Smiling!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *