GORE IN THE STORE
BREEDER - ***
Directed by: Jens Dahl.
Starring: Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Anders Heinrichsen, Signes Egholm Olsen, Morten Holst.
Denmark 2019, 107mins, Certificate 18.
Released digitally and on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment from 15th February 2021.
“How much can you get away with when you hold the reins?”
Originally premiered as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2, Jens Dahl’s disturbingly chilling dissection of biohacking certainly created a stir in genre circles. Inaccurately dismissed by some as a belated Danish entry into the annals of the so-called torture porn sub-genre, the strong reactions to sequences in the film’s final third seemed less about the actual content, but more about their jarring juxtaposition in contrast to the relatively measured restraint and cold sense of foreboding intrigue which precedes.
Olympic equestrian Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), conscious of her body clock and with a specific window before the next Olympics, wants to have a child, but her investment banker husband Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen) has taken to refusing her sexual invitations. One of Thomas’ clients is Dr Isabel Ruben (Signes Egholm Olsen), who is experimenting with a revolutionary new anti-ageing treatment labelled ‘Resurrecta’. After a neighbour’s Russian au-pair narrowly escapes abduction and staggers dishevelled to their door for help, Thomas offers to drive her to the hospital. Mia’s suspicions lead her to track Thomas’ iPhone not to a hospital, but instead to an old sugar factory. It is here, in the bowels of the facility, where Mia will discover the dreadful secret behind Dr Ruben’s ‘Resurrecta’ and be forced to engage in a brutal struggle with her tormentors for survival.
There is a clinical precision to BREEDER, both visually and scripted. At its cold heart is Signes Egholm Olsen’s white-coated Dr Isabel Ruben. His unflinching pursuit of the fountain of youth has transformed her into a modern-day Countess Elizabeth Báthory. “There’s nothing natural about ageing. Ageing is a disease”, she opines to an interviewer. Interestingly, screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomson admits in the disc’s interview that she did not initially envision Dr Ruben’s mad scientist as female. However, the change of heart adds additional resonance and poignancy to the script when it tackles gender inequality and the sexual politics of ageing.
Visually, the colour grading is predominately tinged sickly yellow once the narrative arrives at the old factory, reflecting the (very) queasy goings-on within, and the notable focus on urination and urolagnia. Branded like cattle, the caged women are tortured and humiliated by Dr Ruben’s viscous caretaker ‘The Dog’ (Morten Holst) and his assistant ‘The Pig’. “You’re a sadistic misogynist, and I’m letting you live out your dreams” admonishes Dr Ruben, who seemingly will turn a blind eye on her video monitor to nearly every act of enforced degradation metered out by ‘The Dog’ but will draw the line at rape (presumably not wanting her ‘cattle’ to be internally compromised). For this, however, is all merely a prelude to the gynaecological procedures awaiting ‘breeder’ Dr Ruben’s captives and the horrific DNA extraction method that will follow.
Although compared in some quarters to the New French Extreme films of the early 2000s, the level of onscreen violence, gore and nastiness, whilst unquestionably repugnant on occasion, never reaches those notorious ‘heights’. Nor can it be said that it delivers such a devastating denouement as Pascal Laugier’s MARTYRS (2008). The most affecting moment is a disturbing display of Stockholm syndrome by one of the captives towards ‘The Dog’. Cathartic just deserts for torturers and experimenters are relatively slim-pickings. The somewhat hurried wrap-up does not fully satisfy or entirely gel given all that has transpired and the various plot-elements that remain underdeveloped.
Nevertheless, this is an intriguing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde hybrid entry in the medical conspiracy sub-genre, popularised by more mainstream fare such as COMA (1978). However, once Dr Ruben’s secret is revealed, it transforms into a strong survivalist horror nightmare which is a different beast altogether. Be warned.
Extras: There is an interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaad Thomsen, a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by film historian Kat Ellinger, and exclusive to the first 2000 copies, a Limited-Edition O-card Slipcase.