Michael lives a simple life. Michael has a dull office job. Michael has no wife or children. Michael has a mother and sister who he sees infrequently. Michael has a few friends but prefers his own company. Michael has a 10-year-old boy locked in his basement.
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Markus Schleinzer Michael is a bold debut. Composed of mostly static shots, and in the claustrophobic aspect ratio of 1.66:1, Schleinzer’s camera work is never flashy or intrusive instead happier to sit and observe. This sums up his approach to the film in general as the film never truly offers an opinion of Michael (Michael Fuith) and his captive (Markus Schleinzer) opting instead to present all aspects of Michael’s life in a clinical fashion and leave it up to the audiences natural revulsion to do the rest.
With minimal dialogue and a preference for slow-building scenes the tension is almost unbearable. Just watching kidnapper and kidnappee sit down for dinner in the opening scene, cutlery scraping on plates as they eat in silence, was a stressful experience. Schleinzer never makes us watch the worst of Michael’s abuse, leaving those moments we don’t see in the basement up to us to fight not to imagine.
What we see instead is a lonely man and a trapped child with a relationship not totally dissimilar to that between father and son. Micheal and the boy share some almost tender moments together when decorating a tree or solving a jigsaw puzzle. Briefly you could forget that the boy is there under duress, but you don’t forget for long.
There are a few twists and turns in Michael‘s final act and by the end I had my hand clasped to my mouth; I was so tense I could have screamed. Superbly made and a tough watch Michael is a harrowing film which can make the monstrous seem mundane. Recommended with caution; be sure you know what film you are going to see.