Epidemic

"OK"

Epidemic Review


In this film, two contemporary, young Danish men (played by Epidemic's screenwriter Niels Vørsel and writer/director Lars Von Trier) set out, under pressure from their prospective producers and under a killing deadline, to write a screenplay about the title ailment, a mysterious and highly contagious illness characterized chiefly by the horrible, bloody demise it brings about within days. In that film, which we're treated to in doses, an idealistic young doctor named Mesmer sets out from the unnamed, sometime-in-the-20th-century, and still uninfected City for the outlying Infected Areas to provide treatment for those already afflicted. Fate plays an awful trick on our filmmakers, though: as work progresses on their film, an actual epidemic sweeps Europe, one strangely like that about which they're writing.

You know from the start that all will not turn out well; among the first scenes is a tour of the filmmakers' apartment in which the furniture is upended and the walls are smeared with blood. 1988's Epidemic chronicles the fateful few days in which the apartment's inhabitants simultaneously complete their film treatment and succumb to this plague.

All of von Trier's films have the act of filmmaking as their subtext to some extent - some would argue that all good films do - but Epidemic was only his second feature and here, obviously, the subtext is right up there on the screen. The film was photographed largely in 16mm in a grainy black and white, and much of the footage was shot from an unmanned camera, lending the proceedings an improvisational, Warhol feel. While the plot is that of the horror genre, the bulk of Epidemic deals with the creation of the film, an incubation that parallels that of the microbes that bear fruit in the title illness. (In the film von Trier and Vørsel are writing, the young doctor who travels out to treat the disease proves to be the carrier himself, a detail that strengthens von Trier's apparent assertion that idealism and creativity are linked to sickness. The deeper meaning of this assertion - maybe that the epidemic is somehow purgative, or that all life, even that of the disease, is a creative force - remains unclear to this viewer.)

Epidemic is often a lot of fun to watch, especially the footage of the film-within-the film; this has the same strangely dateless feel of his The Element of Crime and Zentropa, and like those films it takes place in a weirdly international and original landscape, like something from William Burroughs, complete with an intricate, implied history all its own. And von Trier has tricked his material out in allusion. His Dr. Mesmer, for instance, is a tip of the hat to Anton Mesmer, the 19th-century German physician who first dabbled in hypnotism (or "mesmerism"); Epidemic accordingly ends in a hypnosis session in which a woman, invited to immerse herself in the world of the film von Trier and Vørsel have written, goes berserk with fear and first draws attention to the actual symptoms of plague that those assembled have developed.

But too much of Epidemic feels thrown together, as though von Trier is working at the mercy of available material, weaving it into a whole as he goes. When he and Vørsel pay a visit to actor Udo Kier in Germany, Kier relates a horrifying tale his dying mother shared with him about German victims of Allied bombings. Later, when Epidemic refers back to this atrocity, it feels less like a planned revelation than an available one. For all the material that connects, there's as much, such as an autopsy, that feels like padding.

While von Trier is seldom less than interesting, and even his padding stands up fairly well beside the best work of many of his peers, Epidemic ultimately feels as extemporaneous as its camerawork; it wouldn't surprise me to find that it was made with the same haste as the film being made within it. It would certainly register as a disappointment for those seeking straight ahead gore. Best to see it as an insight into the working mind of a man who is, for better or worse, one of contemporary cinema's true visionaries. In that sense, it's an interesting, occasionally even fascinating, ride.

Epidemic is now available on DVD, with a few enlightening extras, from Home Vision Entertainment.



Epidemic

Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Friday 11th September 1987

Distributed by: Vitagraph Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Fresh: 2 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Himself / Dr. Mesmer, Niels Vørsel as Himself

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.