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

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

Paddington 2 Movie Review

Paddington 2 Movie Review

The first Paddington movie in 2014 is already such a beloved classic that it's hard...

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

Everyone's back from last year's undemanding adult comedy, plus some starry new cast members, for...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler brought a blast of offbeat creativity to the Western genre two...

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not...

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a...

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

The most riotously enjoyable Marvel movie yet, this action epic benefits hugely from the decision...

Advertisement
Breathe Movie Review

Breathe Movie Review

While this biopic has the standard sumptuous production values of a British period drama, it's...

The Snowman Movie Review

The Snowman Movie Review

With a cast and crew packed with A-list talent, this film seems like it should...

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

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.