Saturday, January 25, 2020

Montrak – review

Director: Stefan Schwenk

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Montrak is an ambitious film, no-one can take that away from it. Of German pedigree, it is clearly a budget production but often looks great with a couple of cracking stunt shots and a very credible gore/sfx. It is also a leviathan of a film, coming in at just over two hours and that was where I felt it was too ambitious.

Set across five chapters and three time periods (though two are medieval periods 25 years apart) it is the narrative where the film becomes problematic, having to introduce new characters, some of whom perhaps we are less than interested in, and whilst it looks to build the characters they were, perhaps, not as dynamic as they might be and the film drags for it.

Sönke Möhring as Montrak
So, the first chapter is set in a medieval period and we meet the Count Montrak (Sönke Möhring), a voice over tells us that he was a good Christian aristocrat until anger entered his heart and he turned to Satan. Now the reason for this isn’t told here – we get the story, that his wife (Cosma Shiva Hagen) became ill and he was tricked into a Faustian deal to save her, later and one wonders at why it wasn’t put in this section. Nevertheless, Satan makes him immortal (as a vampire) and gives him a ring of power.

Adam Jaskolka as Wladislaw
He hid away, however when the land was invaded he was discovered and came up with a plan (or Satan did and he relayed it). He ordered his second, Wladislaw (Adam Jaskolka), to take his ring and he would die – his death signalling the vanishing into myth the legend of the vampire. Wladislaw could not be his heir, however, as he was already evil. Rather they would find a mortal man, give him the ring, tempt him from innocence to evil and he would become the commander of a vampire army (that Wladislaw and Caspar (Florian Freiberger) are to build) and use that to conquer the earth for the devil. At the end of the spiel the crypt is invaded, there is a huge fight, all the vampires are killed (except Wladislaw and Caspar survive, by plot necessity) and Montrak dies.

Wilhelm and Elizabeth
You read that right, Montrak dies… the film is named after him but he is dead (bar a flashback to his story with his wife) he spends no more time in the film eponymously titled for him. We then jump forward 25 years for the next chapter and meet the peasant Wilhelm (Matthias Reichstein). The peasants are having a hard time, the harvest is poor but Wilhelm announces his proposed marriage to Elizabeth (Nadine Badewitz). That night the farmer camp in the fields is attacked by vampires led by Caspar, and Wilhelm is captured as he fought with anger and this makes them think they can turn him to evil. He is released after 4 days but the village turn on him and he is exiled, with Elizabeth seemingly turning on him too. However, by the end of the chapter his anger has activated the ring but he has refused to put it on (though refusing meant that the vampires attacked the village and Elizabeth was killed).

Ralph Stieber as Frank
Then the film moves to modern day and this is illustrative of the primary problem with the film. We meet Frank (Ralph Stieber) and have a chapter dedicated to him. He has lost his job, has an unrequited crush and is living back in the parental home. We spend time with him failing to get his unrequited love (she has a boyfriend), stumbling across vampires and meeting Nicki (Nadine Petry). Nicki is a vampire who only drinks blood bank procured blood and tries to help him escape the vampires – this ends up with them having sex (there is little chemistry to make this convincing, indeed Frank is a bland character). What is interesting in this is the idea that feral wolves are being blamed for attacks across the city. However, our protagonists are captured and we don’t see them again until the end of the film.

The fourth and fifth chapters are about Harry (Dustin Semmelrogge), who is drawn into the underground world of the vampires when his sister is attacked and hospitalised. It is clear that the hospital knows what is actually going on and Harry is recruited by a government sponsored team of vampire hunters. Interestingly they are only aware of a feral vampire type (which are described as mutants) and any suggestion that there might be intelligent vampires pulling the strings is dismissed by the Government liaison. Harry is much more of a dynamic character than perhaps Wilhelm and definitely more so than Frank and his story becomes more interesting.

captured feral
To be honest, I possibly would have cut out the Wilhelm section and the Frank section (bar the Montrak flashback that I would have put into the Montrak section) and cut the run time considerably – perhaps even having further footage in the Harry section to expand around his story. The film, as structured, is quite a laborious watch. The fight at the end is fun, we needed to see more about the feral vampires (and the techniques of the hunters – who had got information out of a feral, not sure how that worked).

Lore-wise we are sparse. A bite appears to turn but the turning process seems to be a long old job if Harry’s sister is anything to go by. They are fine in sunlight – but that is a relatively new development from 60-70 years ago and we get a visual shot of a vampire burning in the sun from the past. Head or heart to kill and they use silver bullets on the vampires. I never got the sense of the massive vampire army/sleeper agent network that was referred to. Breaking the curse of vampirism involves breaking the devil’s ring.

Let’s be fair, the filmmakers had big ambitions but, to me, their ambitions were too big. The film needs honing, editing and currently I’d say 4 out of 10 is pretty darn fair. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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