At the launch of Time Out’s ‘100 Best Horror Movies’ project early in 2012, we asked what the new wave of horror movies would look like, the films that would shake this tired and tiresome genre out of its torture porn and remake-induced torpor. Along with a handful of recent releases – which include Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ – ‘Dead Europe’ provides the beginnings of an answer. These are horror movies which aren’t quite horror movies, utilising the techniques and imagery of the genre to present a subversive, sidelong view of real-world events and situations.
In ‘Dead Europe’ the issue is exploitation, and how the echoes of Europe’s brutal past continue to shape our troubled present. Ewen Leslie plays Isaac, an Australian photographer who heads to Greece – his family’s birthplace – following the untimely death of his father, Vasilly. There he becomes embroiled in family drama – his Greek relatives all feel that Vasilly ran away from his responsibilities – but also in something more sinister: an immigrant child (Kodi Smit McPhee) appears and disappears, and the citizens of Vasilly’s home town seem to be harbouring some dark secret. The hunt for the truth will take Isaac to Paris and Budapest, encountering the victims and perpetrators of different kinds of hate crimes, past and present.
‘Dead Europe’ packs a lot of story into 84 minutes, and the result can feel a little busy, storming onward without sufficient attention to character or tension. But it gets so much right, asking timely questions about the way we treat one another and creating a vivid, intensely felt mood of crumbling grandeur and lost chances. It’s beautifully photographed and confidently performed, with a script steeped in mystery and misdirection. And although it may lack a raw, confident force to make it truly special, ‘Dead Europe’ completely nails its devastating, unexpected ending.