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Losing My Religion

Sundance Institute

Krazy House (2024)

Many European artists – Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, to name a couple – have very skewed ideas about what defines Americana, deduced exclusively from our pop culture exports. The Dutch filmmaking duo Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil is yet another example. “Krazy House,” premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, can best be described as “Funny Games” reimagined as a sitcom.

It’s their fifth feature collaboration, and first in seven years. They are virtually an unknown quantity Stateside; though they’ve frequented the Fantastic Fest, their films have yet to secure U.S. distribution. Whether this, their first English-language offering, changes that remains to be seen.

“Krazy House” is essentially a 1990 sitcom, the kind taped before a live audience, within a film. While the actions take place on a soundstage for the duration, the final product looks like three disparate projects made with the same cast on the same set all meshed together.

Bernie (Nick Frost) is an ultrareligious dad who sports a Jesus sweater vest. He even has an organ in his living room. He is a klutz, and not just because he wears sandals with floor-scrubbing brushes for soles. Eva (Alicia Silverstone) is the Angela Bower-esque breadwinner. Daughter Sarah (Gaite Jansen) is a Kelly Bundy-like gum-popping slut. Son Adam (Walt Klink) uses his bedroom as a science lab; and who knows whom and what that’s referencing.

Then things get weird. We see violent cutaways in the scope format sporadically disrupting the Academy ratio sitcom in progress, which is presumably nondiegetic to the sitcom’s live studio audience. The family is paid an unexpected visit by a trio of Russians – Piotr (Jan Bijvoet) with sons Dmitri (Chris Peters) and Igor (Matt Stooker) – who first attempt entry with a wire coat hanger.

After Bernie clumsily breaks the kitchen sink faucet, he contacts the Russians for the repair. Bad idea. They proceed to wreak havoc by drilling and sledgehammering every wall. Eva suffers a breakdown after her accident-prone husband literally fries her laptop. Sarah lusts after Dmitri. Adam and Igor cook meth together. All the while Bernie is experiencing a crisis of faith, carrying on conversations with the Lord and Savior himself in scope-format cutaways.

Eventually the laugh tracks are gone, and so are the TV aesthetics. The story is now presented in good ol’ 35mm even though they are still inside the TV studio. This is when the film turns into “Funny Games,” with the Russian intruders boarding up every entrance and window and subjecting the family to torture and slave labor.

The film can be described as surrealist. Or perhaps it’s just nonsensical. Incredibly, nobody yells “cut” when sex and drugs are shown on live TV in 1990. No crew or audience members attempt to contact authorities or at the very least run for their lives when the Russians start brandishing rifles. None of the observers sense anything is off even when the show ceases to be funny. Really?

Mr. Frost here proves he’s capable of carrying a movie without Simon Pegg; the genre also seems to be right in his wheelhouse. Though is that supposed to be a Southern drawl he’s doing? It’s hard to tell. Messers. Peters and Stooker seem to be cast for their looks rather than acting chops.

Despite its comedic premise, the film is every bit as torturous as both versions of “Funny Games.” Though it clocks in at only 86 minutes, "Krazy House” mostly feels like an endurance contest. It does get outrageous to a point that it becomes funny. Perhaps the filmmakers finally manage to bludgeon moviegoers into submission in the end. But the film is devoid of subtlety and suspense, and doesn’t really have anything to say about sitcoms, tropes, religion or whatever. The whole exercise just isn’t as clever as the filmmakers think it is.


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