Based on actual events that occurred in Germany just a few years back, Grimm Love is a moving tale of desperate loneliness, cannibalism, and obsession. Keri Russell plays Katie Armstrong, a graduate student in psychology who, as a young teen, was captivated by newspaper accounts of a man who solicited volunteers to be eaten—and actually found one. The accounts had stuck in her mind throughout her high school years and she eventually finds herself living in Germany while she writes her doctoral thesis about these events.
Let me say up front that if you are a horror film fan or a gore-hound, you will most likely be disappointed with this film. While the events are certainly horrific, director Martin Weisz has created a thought-provoking psychological study into the effects of isolation on human nature. This is not a lurid cannibalism film and it is not a gore-fest. While the events depicted may create some squeamishness in the viewer, the film is tastefully done with very little overt violence or bloodshed and never crosses the line into exploitation.
As a young boy, Oliver Hartwin suffered severe emotional trauma when he witnessed his father and older brother abandon the family, leaving Oliver and his mentally ill mother alone. He was teased mercilessly at school for his girlish and outdated clothing and ostracized everywhere he went. At home, his mother henpecked and berated him constantly, heaping on the guilt, thus ensuring that as an adult he would never leave her alone. As a child, his one escape was to sneak out and watch hogs being slaughtered and later on as an adult would sneak into his room and watch video compilations of “death tapes.” He fantasizes about cannibalism and even practices by eating a doll he received as a gift.
Simon Grombeck also suffered abuses as a child and has a sexual fetish in which he fantasizes about being eaten alive. He goes so far as to cruise the streets looking for a male prostitute that will do what he asks in exchange for money. The initial contact works as the prostitute bites Simon harder and harder on his arms and chest, but the “game” ends miserably as Simon begs for oral castration only to have the prostitute decline his request. Simon has a gay lover but keeps his particular fetishes to himself. He steals into the computer room when his lover is asleep and masturbates to cannibalism websites.
Once Oliver’s mother dies, Oliver is free to truly explore his fantasies. Now that he is hooked up to the World Wide Web, it is only a matter of time before Oliver starts sending out requests for willing victims that will agree to be eaten. He meets several men, all who take the game right to the edge but back down at the last second. So when Simon replies to Oliver’s request, Oliver is thrilled that this one seems quite serious about consummating the act of cannibalism.
The film is told in flashback as Russell’s character researches the men in libraries, takes photos of their schools and places of work, and even breaks into Oliver’s empty house. The men’s obsession increases relative to the obsession of the grad student as she moves deeper and deeper into her thesis. Armstrong’s research culminates in the discovery that Oliver made a video of the crime which was seen only by a few doctors, lawyers, and certain police officials. She searches the cannibalism message boards until she receives a reply from an anonymous person claiming to own a copy of the tape. It is delivered to Armstrong and the viewer watches the final act just as Armstrong is watching the tape on her television.
It seems many people have been disappointed by this film. Many comments I have read criticize the film for not having enough violence or gore. However, I think many of these viewers missed the point of the film. The film really isn’t about cannibalism as much as it is about the exploration of obsession and how people develop emotional problems. Both men suffered abuse and neglect as children, both men were further ostracized by their sexual orientation, and both suffered through long periods of loneliness. This is paralleled by Russell’s grad student character that also experiences both horror and derision from her friends when she speaks about her dissertation topic. As she becomes more deeply involved in her research, she also becomes isolated and alone with her depressing studies.
The film unfolds at a languid pace, allowing you to get to know the characters well before attempting to depict the more lurid aspects of the events. The viewer gets a sense that these troubled souls are not out to commit a heinous crime, or indeed to bother anyone outside their tiny circle of acquaintances. Oliver is actually a gentle soul who on several occasions releases potential victims even as those victims are bound and helpless; he only wants willing participants and clearly does not consider his actions as homicidal. He goes to great lengths to ensure that Simon truly wants this fate. The film asks the question: Is it murder when both the killer and the “victim” are willing participants? I think the theme is quite similar to the argument we continue to have about Kevorkian and assisted suicide. How can it be a crime if one person asks to die and another simply grants that wish?
I was captivated by the relationship between the cannibal and his willing victim. I’m not entirely sure that Russell’s character was needed as I think the story was strong enough to survive as a narrative unto itself, although I do understand the parallels the director was trying to make between the grad student and her research subjects.
Grimm Love is ultimately a fascinating study of the dark side of human nature which I enjoyed immensely. The film is being released under the new Fangoria FrightFest label. To see the trailer for this and seven other films, and to vote for your favorite trailer (the winner gets a theatrical release while some lucky voters get a Vegas vacation and other prizes), got to www.FangoriaFrightFest.com.