Peter Hengl’s eerie horror thriller is a mix of predictability and promise inside of its tense narrative.
Continuing with my Tribeca Film Festival coverage this year, we will talk about my first Midnight Film experience. I usually cannot stay up to the ungodly hours of midnight films because I get too tired to stay awake past 11 PM. Well, this time I did not have to stay up but I could watch some of the midnight selections at this year’s festival. The topic of body positivity is important to me and whatever that means to those who deal with various insecurities with their bodies. I am not the socially acceptable thin white body that is shown on the internet and media that we consume. So when someone decides to touch upon this subject and discuss the various themes of feeling comfortable in one’s skin. Thus, I watched my second film of the festival, Peter Hengl’s Family Dinner.
In the film, we follow the journey of Simone or how her family calls her “Simi” played by Nina Katlein who plans to spend the Easter holiday with her Aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger). Claudia lives with her partner Stefan (Michael Pink) and her son Fillip (Alexander Sladek). Everything looks like it’s normal until Simi starts to notice unusual behavior by her cousin Fillip. After helping her aunt find Fillip the hesitant aunt allows Simi to stay until Easter Sunday. Claudia takes her insecure niece under her wing as she starves her to help her lose weight. Written and directed by Peter Hengl in his feature film debut. What follows is a journey of nightmare-fueled family dinner for the ages.
Peter Hengl’s script is not the easiest to get behind with its uneven pacing and predictability. That’s not to say that all of the writing is flat, the characters of Claudia and Simi are fantastic while Fillip and Stefan feel one-dimensional. That’s not to say that there is nothing in this film that works because Peter Hengl’s direction is fluid as he patiently travels to the conclusion of his film. The visual language and sound design of the film are exquisitely crafted to help the atmosphere of the picture. Family Dinner is coated in a beautiful minimal muted color palette that helps bring out the horror elements of the film. The contrast and highlights help provide the feeling of unease while its oddly calming score helps the audience come down from the tension. The film fails at forming a cohesive narrative with a lackluster first half and an entertaining second half. Ultimately, the film’s themes hold the film together making it worth watching along with its good performances. I am interested to see where Peter Hengl’s career goes and would love to sit down and watch another film of his. Even with its problems, Family Dinner was entertaining and I would recommend everyone watch it when they get the chance. I can see this finding life on a service like Shudder where the horror fanbase can really help boost its visibility.
Watch Family Dinner at the Tribeca Film Festival by visiting their website and buying a ticket for its remaining screenings.