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MOVIE REVIEW
Cuckoo (2024)

The absolute worst audience reaction you can have for a horror film is silence. People are supposed to be reacting to the gore, experiencing the shocks of the plot twists in their own bodies, maybe even screaming. This is not something you can expect from “Cuckoo;” it’s awful but it’s true that the audience at the Berlinale watched it in stony silence. “Cuckoo” should have been an O.T.T. camp catastrophe/delight, but unfortunately it's just a rotten egg.

Gretchen (Hunter Schafer) is 17 and has just lost her mother. Her father, Luis (Marton Csokas), and stepmother, Beth (Jessica Henwick), have taken the girls - for there is also Alma (Mila Lieu), age 8 – to the Bavarian Alps (in Germany) to reside on site as the parents construct a new resort. The resort owner, Mr. König (Dan Stevens, who is going to be haunted by the ghost of “Downton Abbey” until he develops a sense of humor about it and/or stars in a silly romcom) is super skin-crawling from the start, talking about Alma's conception and barging right into Gretchen's bedroom offering her a reception job on the hotel front desk. There's also a mental hospital, or something, nearby, so Mr. König is clear Gretchen, whose name he always pronounces with a German accent, shouldn't cycle home alone at night. He doesn't say anything about the different women who barf all over the reception area, or the lady in the trenchcoat who gives people seizures when they look at her, though. Gretchen being more creeped out by the fact Alma absorbed her twin in utero is apparently just par for the course. The fact Alma is mute and Asian is also, unfortunately, par for the course; and movies really, really need to stop this racist trope like yesterday.

Gretchen, left alone on the world’s most disturbing reception desk, actually falls asleep until a French lady named Ed (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who is styled to look like Gary Oldman as Dracula, checks in. Shortly she and Gretchen are making out by a tree, cigarettes in hand; and when Ed offers to take Gretchen to Paris, Gretchen doesn’t hesitate. Unfortunately they are foiled by the trenchcoat lady who crashes their car, flings Ed aside with inhuman strength and is only stopped from doing unspeakable things to Gretchen because Mr. König shows up and plays his recorder at her, like a second grade class recital. Things only get sillier from there; the second billed actor, Jan Bluthardt, gets to spend a lot of time running around with a gun covered in blood and cackling manically as a desperate plot device instead of a person. But the worst is the scene where Gretchen wakes up badly injured in a hospital bed to discover Mr. König smelling her lunch.

Tilman Singer should have given his script to someone else instead of directing it himself, because his style is too eager to force the audience to take this seriously. That means the juddering sound design evokes no emotion other than to inform us what we're supposed to be experiencing. Ms. Schafer does much better work than the movie requires as a kid in pain - emotional and physical - who still manages more empathy and kindness than you'd imagine. It should have been awesome. It could have been terrifying. Failing that it should have been hilarious. But it was just bad.

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