Michael is an outwardly ordinary thirty-something man in Austria. He has a good job working for an insurance company and a large house. In his house he has a soundproof basement with a wide, sturdy metal bolt across the door. Locked within this basement is a ten year old boy called Wolfgang whom Michael has abducted.
While more films are willing to tackle the subject of child abuse nowadays, it’s still possibly the trickiest theme to take on in this medium. Even the most devastating and powerful examples of such films (‘Happiness’, ‘Mysterious Skin’) still came under fire for portraying this real world problem in a realistic manner.
The relationship between Michael and Wolfgang does not at first seem like a master/slave deal. Wolfgang is let out of the basement regularly. The two have dinner, wash up, and watch television together. To a casual observer they would seem like a father and son. Michael even takes Wolfgang on trips out of town on weekends, and the boy does not appear to resist his imprisonment. Indeed the basement itself is no dungeon. It is spacious, colourful, has a TV and cooker. Despite appearing to genuinely care for Wolfgang, beneath all this is the fact he cannot hide, he is a monster who has captured and enslaved this child for his own pleasure. How long can he keep this guise up before someone, his family, neighbours or colleagues find something out?
Drawing from a real life case, this film immediately sets itself apart by telling the story almost exclusively from the point of view of the paedophile. It is presented in a frank, realistic manner, portraying many of the more mundane aspects of Michael’s existence rather than the shocking ones. No apparent camera tricks or music score is used. It avoids being sensationalistic or exploitative and presents its protagonist as a fully formed character. While its pacing is on the leisurely side it still manages to be tense and uncomfortable at times.
A brave and unusual film that is willing to confront and explore the toughest of subjects, without simplifying it or offering easy answers.