A Film Review of 'We Might As Well Be Dead' from the Leeds International Film Festival
The Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) was a high for many of our members last semester. Joe went along and caught the screening of We Might As Well Be Dead and has treated us with a review to allow those who were not fortunate enough to attend to immerse themselves into the film, as if they were there.
Written by Joe Rogers
We Might As Well Be Dead is a German social satire film, and Natalia Sinelnikova’s feature debut. It is set inside an unimaginably tall and expansive apartment block, offering sanctuary from an unseen horror in an outside world which can be assumed to be in ruins. We open on a family carrying their child through a cold, unforgiving forest, all inexplicably wearing formal suits. As they reach a break in the forest we see over the horizon a brutalist apartment block - though it looks anything but inviting, we can tell from the family’s demeanour that this is their last hope.
The majority of the film follows Anna, who works in some sort of security position at the apartment block, with our first exposure to the character showing her performing a rigorous check on the family we are introduced to in the opening. Our initial view of her is as a professional who works hard to keep the apartment running. However, once we see inside her apartment, we see a different side, an anxious woman who desperately wants to fit in and be seen as a member of the community. This anxiety is exacerbated by the fact that her daughter has locked herself in the bathroom, believing she has the “evil eye” and will not leave. As the film progresses, problems arise throughout the community, leading to a building sense of distrust. Anna is put in a position where she must do all that she can to find out who is behind the problems, whilst maintaining a facade of normalcy so that no blame or suspicion falls upon her.
Confining the film almost entirely inside the apartment block leads to some excellent claustrophobic and tense moments. The use of the setting is reminiscent of films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, almost having the location act as a character itself. Another similarity this film has to The Thing is the use of distrust as a running theme throughout. WMAWBD draws on the inherent distrust between people as the source of much of its conflict. Anna is terrified of appearing to be out of the ordinary, and it is implied that many of the other residents are the same way. A thread of paranoia runs through the film. Whenever the opportunity arises to blame someone, the characters rush to take advantage, out of fear that they could be the next one ostracised if they don’t follow along with the group. The way this is framed in the movie is reminiscent of the persecution carried out by the Gestapo in Germany during the 1930s-40s. This parallel is no coincidence; the board of directors who decide who lives in the apartment block is opposed to Anna living there, she is a Jewish woman. The impact of this is even greater in the knowledge that Sinelnikova herself is also Jewish. It could be argued that this is the major thesis of the movie, acting as a statement on the ingrained biases of people, and how they can cause people to act like the very worst versions of themselves. On a wider scale, it makes the statement of how this distrust and lack of empathy can give way to fascism
Though it deals with serious subject matter, much of the film is very darkly comedic. Though there is a throughline of tension throughout, many scenes play the absurdity solely for laughs. The film takes a while to settle on a tone, with some points feeling like a mystery, some like a pure comedy and some like a thriller. The comedy style is reminiscent of classic British comedy, with very dry and cynical humour. The tone is somewhat inconsistent, which is not a huge issue, as the humour is not light enough to undercut the tension. However, some scenes would be more effective were humour not mixed in.
The cinematography and set design in this film are absolutely amazing, every visual aspect of the film is realised perfectly. This is complemented by the score, which adds tremendously to the atmosphere. It all comes together to produce a strikingly odd and uncomfortable feeling film. Many of the shots used are innovative and intriguing, making the most of the set of the apartment block.
We Might As Well Be Dead was a very impressive film. Despite some underdeveloped characters and uneven tone, it is a very admirable directorial debut for Sinelnikova. As well as just being a delightful film to watch, the themes were impressively woven throughout, making a biting statement on how people’s biases and distrust, combined with the self-righteousness of believing that someone is a danger, or a problem can give way to fascism. I hope that this film is a success, so we can continue to see what unique ideas Sinelnikova can bring to the big screen in her future works.
My Rating: 3.5/5