Hinterland (2021) IMDB description: “When an ex-prisoner of the Great War returns home and finds his comrades brutally murdered, he decides to bring the serial killer to justice.”
Why I took it off the list: After bingeing Netflix’s recent Bodies (2023), an excellent, time-hopping murder mystery with serious Dark (2017-2020) vibes, I was in the mood for something similar.
And so I remembered that I’d been meaning to watch Hinterland (2021) for a while. While not a sci-fi flick, this period-set murder mystery from Austria looked to have a similar tone and uses unusual visuals to create an off-kilter world.
So, let’s dig in!
Review of Hinterland (2021)
Like the underrated 2004 Hollywood flop Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Hinterland is shot almost entirely against blue screen, allowing the filmmakers to craft a distorted and highly stylized world for the characters to inhabit.
But instead of the retro-futuristic environs of Sky Captain, Hinterland‘s backdrops are a skewed version of Vienna circa 1920, heavily influenced by German Expressionism. So the Austrian capital ends up looking more like Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow or the hellish urban nightmare of Dark City (1988) than the typical post-WW1 European city.
The distorted buildings and skewed perspectives of the streets are shot in deep blacks and blues punctuated by flashes of gold, giving it a visual style reminiscent of any number of David Fincher films. Which is apt, because the story concerns a troubled protagonist hunting down an elusive serial killer.
Aside from one or two shaky-looking scenes or unconvincing pieces of CGI, the visuals are mostly flawless and immersive, lending a disconcerting sense of unease to the proceedings. And despite its digital constraints, the film manages to impressively convey the scale and chaos of this city in this particularly turbulent time with a slew of extras and some nice practical touches.
Compelling Lead, Underwhelming Mystery
One weakness of the film is the rather undercooked mystery plot. It’s a bit too paint-by-numbers and slow to develop. Not to mention a bit unengaging because we don’t really know that much about the victims, or the killer.
You get the feeling the players in the mystery could have been set up much better — maybe by showing us the backstory crucial to the murderer’s unveiling, rather than simply telling us about it in a clunky and confusing way.
Still, there’s a reasonably tense and thrilling climax once the villain is unmasked (even if you’re more likely to be asking yourself ‘who??’ rather than exclaiming ‘Ah!’).
Instead, the main focus of the story is mostly on the tortured protagonists’ difficult reintegration into society. In this area, at least, the film does a pretty good job.
Lead Murathan Muslu is effective and convincing as the brooding, world-weary veteran who takes up his old role as a police detective to investigate the murders, even though he is something of a broken man.
His performance combines well with the off-kilter surroundings to give an overall sense of the unreality and disorientation he’s experiencing: at one point he even exclaims ‘I don’t feel like I fit into this environment’.
This is particularly well-conveyed in one standout sequence in a bar, where an intoxicated Muslu is overwhelmed by the background morphing and changing to haunt him with past traumas.
Final Score: 7/10
Hinterland (2021): Worth Watching?
Yes, Hinterland‘s mystery story is let down by clumsy plotting and exposition, but the sublime visuals, excellent production design, and Muslu’s fantastic lead performance ensure it’s still a fascinating watch.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky