Nikias Chryssos’ Der Bunker is the kind of film Dead by Dawn is made for; a dysfunctional family drama whose more outré parts will make it a hard sell for mainstream audiences. Distributed by Artsploitation, the provocative company behind Bunny the Killer Thing, Der Samurai (also starring Pit Bukowski), and Cub, Der Bunker is as unique a film as your likely to see this year, without the shameless, sometimes questionable, exploitation of its more notorious releases.
The film follows a young man referred solely to as Student (Pit Bukowski) who has taken a room with a secluded family in order to write an important piece for his studies. On arrival, he discovers the house is actually an underground bunker housing Mother (Oona von Maydell), Father (David Scheller), and their son Klaus (Daniel Fripan), a fully grown adult who thinks he is actually 8 years old.
From the second the film starts, Chryssos knows what he’s doing. Bukowski’s Student wanders through a desolate snowy forest whilst Nina Juric’s titles brandish the screen like the messy neon scrawls of a child whilst Leonard Peterson’s moody synth score promises an altogether stranger story than the initial images. Chryssos is to be commended for assembling a team of superb artists who compliment the picture perfectly; Der Bunker is neither weighed down by its influences nor hampered by the nostalgia of its individual parts.
Der Bunker is special because unlike so many retrosploitation films it actually has something to say about both its old school influences and its shock-factor. This is a film about the dangers of education and family, in the same way early John Waters films can be. A family is fine but love and support are only valid when done for the right reasons. The film’s dark heart, though present from the start, really reveals itself the more we understand Klaus’ infantilism as a direct result of mis-education. The true horror beats are, like Reiner’s Misery, revealed when Student tries to exercise his so-far unquestioned freedom to discover a web of lies, deceit, and possible extra-terrestrial possession.
Der Bunker is, when you break it down, a horror comedy about child abuse and kidnap, but its finger is so engagingly pointed at over-loving parents, and its tone so consistently bizarre and sincere, that the bitter taste of exploitation rarely appears. It’s a film about a couple of asphyxiatingly dutiful parents who think their German National man-child will become the next President of America. It’s a madcap experiment in social norms and the education system, aided by a near perverse appreciation of 50’s idealism and dysfunctional families. And it hits all the notes of black comedy and horror without bailing on its own unique charms.
An arresting and near-experimental feature, Der Bunker is a sickly film that belongs in a peculiar sub-genre of its own. Unique, eerie, and surprisingly affecting, Chryssos’ debut is a treat.
Dir. Nikias Chryssos
Stars: Pit Bukowski, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller, Daniel Fripan