TIFF Review: 'We Monsters'

We Monsters (Wir Monster)
(Germany, 95 min.)
Dir. Sebastian Ko, Writ. Sebastian Ko, Marcus Seibert
Starring: Mehdi Nebbou, Ulrike C. Tscharre, Janina Fautz, Marie Bendig
Programme: Discovery (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
"It's strange how comfort blinds us," one character says in an especially ominous scene in the family drama We Monsters. Director/co-writer Sebastian Ko shows a promising hand for psychology in his feature debut. We Monsters gets right into the headspace of devoted parents who would literally kill to protect their children as Paul (Mehdi Nebbou) and Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre) test the limits of a parent’s love. Paul and Christine, now divorced, only grasp the effects that their dysfunctional marriage had on their daughter Sarah (Janina Fautz) when she takes adolescent mischief too far. The family unit is a grotesque beast as We Monsters creates a veritable horror show in this tense domestic drama.

We Monsters moves at a rapid speed when Paul takes Sarah and her friend Charlie (Marie Bendig) on a trip out to the woods. Paul, in a disorienting flurry, finds Sarah atop a dam, alone, with Charlie’s backpack floating in the water below. He tries to save the girl, but she’s not to be found. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, losing the child of another, yet Sarah makes the incident extra troubling. “I pushed her,” she reveals matter of factly. No remorse crosses her face: killing her friend is just something that happened.

We Monsters then puts Sarah’s parents through the wringer as they wonder how to react to news that their child is a murderer. Naturally, their instinct is to protect her, so Charlie’s disappearance remains a mystery even to her own negligent father (Ronald Kukulies). The parents’ dilemma fascinates as they accept their complicity in Charlie’s death. Nature or nurture, Sarah is their monster.

Ample shots of the back of characters’ heads (a few too many, actually) emphasize that We Monsters is all about psychology and Ko certainly creates complex characters with Paul and Christine. Both actors offer thoroughly compelling performances, but We Monsters strains credibility with the adolescent characters and their unintelligible motives. A few ludicrous plot twists, while palpably symbolic, shake the effective and chilling realism of the parable as the parents veer into a series of unbelievable actions that become increasingly farfetched. Similarly, digressions in style, like a few too many lingering still shots, reveal a few too many ideas that don’t come together.

In short, the first half of We Monsters is four-star stuff, but the convoluted latter-half is of a vastly different caliber. It’s nevertheless a very promising debut since Ko delivers monsters that could easily appear in everyday life.

Rating: ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★★)

We Monsters screens:
-Friday, Sept. 11 at 10:00 PM at Scotiabank 2
-Saturday, Sept. 12 at 9:30 PM at Scotiabank 11
-Saturday, Sept. 19 at 12:30 PM at Scotiabank 9

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