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Must Love Death
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by Jay Seaver

"Or, at least, must love mayhem."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I liked "Must Love Death" well enough, but even though I'm the target audience - someone reasonably fond of both its genres and likely to laugh at the in-jokes besides - I had the same reaction that I figure a lot of people will: I wanted one or the other. In my case, I would have been happy to get the romantic comedy without the torture scenes, and I can see people wanting the opposite. Both? I'm not sure.

The comedy has Norman (Sami Loris), a heartbroken and suicidal studio musician, meeting waitress Jenny (Manon Kahle) after she hits him with her car. That doesn't seriously wound him, although the fact that she already has a boyfriend - Foxx C. Bigelow (Philipp Raffery), star of the sci-fi show her uncle produces (and who is set to record a single) - may. The horror comes from Norman driving to rural New jersey, where he thinks he's part of a suicide pact, not knowing that Sean (Jeff Burrell) and Gary (Peter Farkas) have an internet TV show called "Torture or No Torture" and are looking to upgrade from furry animals.

Writer/director Andreas Schaap actually does an impressive job of running Norman's two storylines alongside each other. The ways it could go wrong are myriad: A strictly chronological approach might mean a jarring shift in tone halfway, but it would also be really easy for cutting back and forth to render one thread a foregone conclusion. Or maybe the movie could get over-cute trying to keep the audience guessing. None of this winds up happening; Schaap keeps a good balance between the two halves, even managing to plant an item in thread A that will pay off in thread B without it seeming too obvious.

Of the two halves, I liked the romance the best, in part because of how stripped down to basics it is. It's got two very likable leads - Manon Kahle is particularly delightful - a boorish Other Guy who is amusingly rock-stupid, and a couple of enjoyable sounding-board characters. A storyline that takes up half of an 89-minute movie doesn't have to have enough complications to fill out a 100-minute feature, and thus doesn't leave the audience snorting about the characters' lack of common sense. Boy meets girl, boy meets girl's jackass boyfriend, and go.

The torture stuff - well, there's less of that, too, but there's a reason it's called "torture porn" most of the time - it's already stripped down to the stuff that hits us on a primal level, so there's not much crud to clear away. Schaap isn't focused on incredibly detailed mayhem, but to be honest, this is neither the first nor most creative power tool mauling that the audience has seen. Once you get past Norman, the victims are pretty generic. Sean and Gary are given a couple of amusing quirks each as the villains, and the actors are amusing (if only fitfully threatening, despite the body count). Not bad if you like that sort of thing, but not the greatest example of it, either. The story here also feels cobbled together, and like it jumps over things - compressed, where the romance is streamlined.

One thing Schaap and Loris give to both halves of the movie is a nice bit of dark humor. No matter where we are in the film, a good deal of the action is motivated by Norman being suicidal but not really, and being kind of impervious to injury besides. It's something that could have looked ridiculous, but Loris treads lightly enough. The main actors and the locations do a nice job of hiding the fact that Must Love Death was shot in Germany rather than New York, although the accents get worse the further from the main characters they get.

It's still an impressively polished effort for a man making his first feature. It's kind of a hard one to recommend - as well as the two halves are balanced, it's not going to make a romance fan accept the violence or a gorehound swoon - but still an interesting movie for the adventurous types who sit between those extremes.

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originally posted: 07/11/09 17:23:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/27/11 agata Amazing!! One of the kind! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Andreas Schaap

Written by
  Andreas Schaap

  Sami Loris
  Manon Kahle
  Jeff Burrell
  Peter Farkas
  Philipp Rafferty

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