Coroner Paul Herzfeld (Moritz Bleibtreu) is having a bad day. He’s facing legal action after attacking a man who was abusing a dog, a fit of rage that was prompted by a difficult conversation with his teenage daughter Hannah (Barbara Prakopenka). When he gets into work, he has to deal with a bumbling new apprentice, but things get very bad indeed when he finds a capsule inside a corpse containing Hannah’s name. Hannah has been kidnapped, and the clues to her location are to be found in other bodies in a remote mortuary that has been cut off by a storm. His only help comes from comics artist Linda (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), who’s about to get a crash course in cadavers over the phone…
Cut Off is the latest film from German filmmaker Christian Alvart, who broke out with pitch-black serial killer thriller Antibodies before he went into outer space with his underrated sci-fi horror Pandorum. This, based on a novel by Sebastian Fitzek, hews much closer to the former. It’s grim, it’s tense and it’s extremely dark.
The scenes in which Herzfeld and Linda work in tandem, frantically communicating over the phone as she digs into the hidden recesses of a dead body, are where the film works best. Alvart is clearly having fun blending dark humour and horror and knows the exact right moment to remind Linda, and the audience, that there is definitely a serial killer lurking somewhere. Red herrings are sprinkled in as Paul inches closer to the truth and the film plays Saw-esque tricks on the audience with gruelling scenes featuring Hannah and her captor.
Where things get tricky are in the film’s presentation of violence and its increasingly troubling politics. Although Linda’s storyline sees her become increasingly strengthened, the film fares less well in other areas. Lars Eidinger, familiar to arthouse audiences from his work on Olivier Assayas movies The Clouds Of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, is horrifying as the paedophile and murderer who the film can’t wait to reveal (we know it’s him long before Paul does), but there’s a leering nature to his crimes and society’s inability to stop him that undercuts the thriller element and which becomes increasingly troubling as the film enters the final act. For all the fun of the cat and mouse game (with some gleefully ludicrous twists) and the ticking clock, the message here is that sometimes violence is the only solution and Cut Off seems to take far too much pleasure in that.
Cut Off was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.