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Review: ‘Angst’ (1983) – A Rare Point of View

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Review: 'Angst' (1983) - A Rare Point of View

Typically, horror filmmakers anchor their stories with the experiences of victims. Think of any of your favorite long-running series. Sure, Jason Voorhees might be the main attraction in the Friday the 13th franchise, but the movies are about the campers. Freddy Kreuger’s the star of the show in all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but the teens of Elm Street get way more screen time. There’s a reason for all of this. When horror directors set out to make a movie, they take a gamble, and bet that you’ll empathize more with characters who are like you. Most of us in the movie-viewing public aren’t serial killers. And that’s a good thing, for multiple reasons! Most of us don’t know what it’s like to slice and dice a summer camp full of misbehaving counselors. However, everybody knows what it’s like to respond to some scary sound during the night. Everybody, at one point or another, has pulled the blankets up over their head, terrified by some water heater or the wind blowing outside. So, the moviemakers place us on the side of the people being chased. We spend time getting to know these eventual victims, because they are us. We empathize with the characters whose experiences most mirror ours. We might root for Michael Myers, but we identify with Laurie Strode, and so she’s the one who gets the most screen time.

None of this is true for Angst (1983). This Austrian character study is an exercise in stretching our empathy. If we follow one character long enough, can we see the world from his vantage point? If we spend the full 83-minute runtime with one character, will we be able to anchor our feelings with him, regardless of how abhorrent his actions are? Will we root for pure evil? Maybe we’ll be able to, maybe we won’t. Angst seems much more interested in posing these questions than it is in providing any sort of answer.

From the moment we are introduced to our nameless protagonist (for lack of a better-fitting term), we know he’s a maniac. We first find him in prison for violent crimes he committed ten years earlier. In a voice over, he lets us know this wasn’t his first offence. Worse still, he plans on doing it again.

Angst 1983 Still

When he’s finally released, after serving a combined half his life in jail time, our main character finds himself in an unfamiliar city. You don’t get to know a place, it seems, if your countless years there are spent behind bars. So, he begins wandering aimlessly, stalking the streets, and immediately, the darker sides of his mind take over. Whereas A Clockwork Orange spends its entirety questioning the rehabilitation of violent offenders, Angst promptly shows us our main character is beyond reform. In his continued stream-of-consciousness narration, the central character invites us into his brutal fantasies. Explicit details, like the fear in his victims’ eyes, bring chilling believability to his voiceover. For most of the movie, it’s the closest we come to any dialogue at all. We anchor ourselves, then, to this violent criminal, as he is the only character we spend any substantial time understanding.

As his first day out progresses, this madman’s reverie becomes vicious reality. His first few attempts at savage self-expression are jettisoned, but before long, his self-control fails, and his bloodlust is once again made real.

The onscreen violence, all of it contained to one house and one family, is never once glorified by Angst’s team of creators. Instead, the bloodshed is understated and realistic. There are no great crimson geysers or gratuitous entrails. What we see is the bleak, documentary-like destruction of three bodies. The kills aren’t particularly inventive, but rather feel like something one might see on the news. The killer’s constant reference to his “plan” is a stark reminder that these aren’t impulsive behaviors. These murders are psychopathy manifested in terrible, graphic ways.

Angst is not escapist cinema. There is purpose to every shot, every deliberately shaky camera movement. That purpose, Angst’s raison d’être, is to put us as close as possible into the unstable mind of a meticulous lunatic. The events of the film’s third act aren’t nearly as important as the way you as the audience are made to feel. His methods, his instability, and the terror he creates all feel queasily familiar by the movie’s end.

Angst is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, and it will continue to live rent-free in your head for a long time after the end credits roll.

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