“A unique story with an interesting ending that highlights the enormous strength one character can hold.”
Horror films are known for their bold and experimental status to elicit fear for entertainment purposes. Sometimes these films have difficult and complex themes in extreme situations, but Peter Hengl’s Family Dinner takes this to a new level. It is a German language film that follows Simi (Nina Katlein), a young girl who visits her aunt Claudia’s (Pia Hierzegger) house in the countryside and learns that other forces are at play, causing everyone to act strangely. A slow-burn, experimental horror film, it explores its protagonist’s deepest fears and looks at the different family dynamics that shape the story.
Simi’s aunt is a famous nutritionist and she hopes to ask her to help her to lose weight since she is insecure about the way she looks. Claudia’s new husband Stefan (Michael Pink) welcomes her into their home, while her son Filipp (Alexander Sladek) is hostile and rude towards her. When they sit down for dinner, Simi notices Claudia cutting the meat for her son, while she and Stefan fast before Easter Sunday dinner. One night, after Simi helps find Filipp, who ran away from home, Claudia agrees to help her niece to help her to get on a healthier track by following her strict dietary guide. Simi learns that she must not eat any kind of food until Easter Sunday dinner. However, when Claudia becomes increasingly militant with the diet, Simi learns that her worst nightmare is only beginning.
Family Dinner explores a lot of complex themes, and it is important to understand each character’s motivations. Whether these problems are universal or not, the film creates an interesting conversation about how far people are willing to follow unconventional traditions for the sake of change. Simi is insecure about her body and has no self-confidence, and she believes that losing weight will make her more confident. While the movie doesn’t try to shame her, the other characters around her let her know that is perfect the way that she is. The idea of beauty and self-perception becomes its protagonist’s driving force. The film presents this theme as a reflection of the world and how it affects people, whether it is from advertising or fashion — and in this case, a healthy nutritionist who follows a strict diet.
Hengl’s movie emphasises the horror elements within its characters. Claudia is an interesting character who begins to show kindness, but then this goes far beyond what is imagined. After the failure of her last book, she finds knowledge from ancient cultures to seek solutions. Her hunger for recognition and fame knows no boundaries or limitations. Claudia’s control over her son’s life is what makes their family dynamic weird and horrifying. This horror slowly begins to manifest on screen when she agrees to help Simi with her weight loss and tries to use her overbearing, strict nature to manage her diet and development. Simi follows Claudia’s unorthodox techniques to lose weight, and at some point, she begins to question her aunt’s methods.
Family Dinner has a unique story with an interesting ending that highlights the enormous strength one character can hold. Katlein carries the film and captures the weakness and vulnerability of her character’s insecurities in the truest form. Even if the story hints at viewers making a decision about the characters’ morality, the answer might be a bit predictable. Fear and addiction live within the characters, and their true colours are shown in a unique and terrifying exploration of these themes. While the third act is predictable, the reveal is well-earned and rewarding. Family Dinner is an Easter vacation in hell, and for viewers who prefer to watch stomach-churning horror films such as this, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Who knew a meaty plate could be joyous and terrifying at the same time?