by Vladan Petkovic
- After subversive shorts and a controversial documentary, Ivan-Goran Vitez goes for the throat of modern society with a funny and exciting thriller
If there is a genre modern Croatian cinema rarely employs, it’s the thriller. After subversive shorts The Death of the Seals and The Final Sacrament, as well as controversial documentary Little Hands about Croatia’s national Pula Film Festival, director Ivan-Goran Vitez goes for the throat of modern society with the funny and exciting Forest Creatures [+see also:
interview: Ivan Goran Vitez
The new Dutch owner of a Zagreb-based advertising agency, Rinus Jongbloed (Jaksa Boric), takes his employees on a team-building weekend of rafting and paintball. The relationships between the co-workers are tense, particularly with Branko (Vili Matula), one of the agency founders, who has had to give the decision-making power over to the new manager.
Most of the employees are ambitious, each in their own way. Young Mladen (Luka Peros) is bootlicking Rinus; there are clear hints that the attractive Maja (Natasa Dangubic) is sleeping with the new manager; the Bosnian Nedim (Ljubisa Savanovic) is also trying to win his affections in his own simple way; and only the hard-working Vesna (Hana Hegedusic) seems to care about Branko and his feelings. Things are further complicated by the fact that Jongbloed only speaks Dutch, and thus requires an interpreter, Sanjin (Zeljko Königsknecht), who will play a crucial role in the film’s climax.
During the paintball game, a drooling hillbilly (Goran Navojec) with a shotgun intercepts Branko's team and kills one of his female colleagues. Branko manages to grab his shotgun and kill him, but soon after enters into a conflict with Mladen, who’s packing his own real pistol, and kills him too, in self-defence. The rest of his team run away and join Rinus’ rival team. But there comes a much bigger danger than Branko.
The hillbilly has a family and his savage wife (Nina Violic) starts killing them, one by one. Two picnickers gathering mushrooms happen to be in the forest at the same time, and they will also play an important role in the ensuing massacre, while Branko will find out that the hillbilly was not there accidentally and that the weekend is much more mysterious than it originally seemed.
The film is even more complicated than this short exposition sounds, and the plot consists of several parallel storylines for different characters. Besides the paintball teams, there’s the local family, straight out of films such as Deliverance or a softer version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the picnickers, a New Age couple comprising a fierce feminist who keeps humiliating her terribly intimidated boyfriend; and two organizers of the paintball game (with a an apparent gay S&M leaning), who also play a part in arranging the killings.
Yet Vitez skilfully intertwines the parallel actions, simultaneously providing solid ground for character development. The writer/director also manages to infuse different kinds of humour, from the generally ironic, tongue-in-cheek variety to witty dialogue and some inventive dramaturgic sabotages, to hints of gross-out comedy.
Vitez employs actors rarely seen in film (except for Matula, Navojec and Violic), which is another element that sets Creatures apart from mainstream Croatian cinema and achieves a refreshing, original result. Working with his regular, experienced collaborators – DoP Tamara Cesarec, editor Mato Ilijic and art director Mario Ivezic – the director has made a very satisfying comedy thriller that should play well both theatrically and in ancillary.
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