24th Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘The Samurai’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blachnik, Christopher Kane | Written and Directed by Till Kleinert

thesamurai-pit

The Samurai is the latest horror film to come out of Germany, and unlike it’s splatter brethren to which I am more accustomed, this is less of a typical plot-led story and more a fantastical, metaphorical fairytale that explores the struggle with sexual identity.

The plot, what there is of it, follows police officer Jakob (Diercks), a quiet, some would say naive, young man who is obsessed with a wolf that is creating havoc on the small-town he calls his beat. When a package arrives at the station addressed to Lone Wolf, it’s owner calling one night asking for him to deliver it to a mysterious cabin in the woods, Jakob can’t help but be intrigued. Going to the abandoned house, Jakob finds the packages owner, a strange young man wearing a white dress, adorning his face in lipstick. But that’s only the beginning of the evening’s surprises, as the man pulls an ancient samurai sword out of the parcel, intent on using it to cut a bloody swathe through the town and it’s inhabitants. And only Jakob can stop him.

You can’t get more high-concept than a cross-dressing, samurai sword wielding villain in a beautiful white dress can you? The very idea of that image conjures up all sorts of connotations. Beauty mixed with violence. A battle for identity, both physical and metaphysical. It’s a good job then that Till Kleinert’s film lives up to that central conceit…

There’s a very bold film hidden under the high-concept idea behind The Samurai. It’s a film that asks the audience to think about what they are seeing rather than take it at face value. To read more into what happens on screen and to use their own judgement to interpret Klienert’s stunning imagery. Is the titular Samurai real or is he an alter-ego of our hero Jakob? Is he the angry soul that hides under Jakob’s timid exterior? Has Jakob somehow “created” a monster through his own frustrations with his life and job? The agile, almost feral nature of the character would suggest so. But Klienert leaves everything open to interpretation. Which, in all honesty, makes reviewing the film somewhat difficult.

Of course you can’t have a film about a cross-dressing samurai without some epic sword-wielding action right? Of course. And The Samurai doesn’t disappoint. Bodies drop, heads roll and there’s blood. LOTS of blood. Especially when the samurai’s reign of terror really gets going. But no matter how stunning the gory visuals, the buckets of blood don’t take away from the impact of the central story. And the tremendous performances.

Michel Diercks and Pit Bukowksi (in a performance that asks the actor to completely free himself from his inhibitions and give his all for the role) as Jakob and the mysterious samurai respectively, work superbly together,  the way they play off each other really selling the film. Forgetting the rest of the film, the tete-a-tete’s between them are the highlights of the film, from their war of words, to the more physical aspects of their fighting. And the dance. Oh, that dance. A strange, twisted, yet oddly beautiful moment of quasi-romance in a film about a killer samurai, with the sexual tension between the duo bubbling under the surface without ever spilling out into physicality, keeping the film thoroughly planted in metaphor and fantasy.

Bound to divide audiences, The Samurai is a bold piece of film making from Germany and one that should be embraced by those looking for something more to their bloody action.

**** 4/5

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