Gaspar Noé has watched Angst more than 40 times. For those unfamiliar with this Austrian shocker – which is likely most of you, as the film’s content has led it to be spottily distributed at best – that should serve as a handy barometer for whether or not this movie is for you. Noé, of course, is best known for his 2002 festival sensation Irreversible, which uses the backwards-chronology of Memento to document the revenge of a brutal assault. Irreversible is rightly hailed as a bravado piece of post-millennial filmmaking, with a pulsing soundtrack by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter. It is also, in the words of the late Roger Ebert, “so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable.” Ah, but Angst was made nearly two decades earlier. Can it really be as nasty as all that?
In a word: yes. Created by director Gerald Kargl (who never made another film) and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Zbigniew Ryczinski, Angst follows an unnamed psychopath (Erwin Leder, who looks as much like a lizard as any mammal on earth) during a brief stint between prison stays. Within minutes of his release, The Psychopath (which is how the character is credited, and how I will refer to him) begins plotting the murder of every stranger he sees, before finally settling on a family living in a remote, woodland estate. Things, uh, go south from there.
The Psychopath rarely speaks, but we are privy to his motivations through his constant, eerily calm narration (which occasionally gets the best of him, as in an early scene in which a murder is foiled by his investment in his own inner monologue). Putting the viewer into the killer’s head is nothing new, of course, but Kargl gives it an interesting spin. Rather than sticking us in The Psychopath’s POV, as in every slasher movie since Halloween, Kargl puts us in his face, thanks to a series of dizzying tracking shots in which Ryczinski’s steadicam seems to be mounted on Leder’s chest. The effect is striking: despite broadcasting his every thought, The Psychopath remains a fundamentally alien presence, as we are continuously forced to stare into his horrifyingly blank visage. He’s the crazy guy on the T, and it turns out he’s just as scary as you think he is.
That Noé was deeply influenced by Angst is obvious; contemporary viewers will also note shades of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and the jet-black mockumentary Man Bites Dog, though I don’t know if those directors saw the film as well. Once again, if you’ve seen those films, you probably know by now whether or not you can handle this one. Fans of uncompromisingly brutal cinema, however, should obviously not miss it.
dir. Gerald Kargl
Screens 6/19 and 6/20 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre