104 min | Anders Thomas Jenson | (Denmark) | 2015
Men and Chicken is written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, who also wrote and directed Flickering Lights (2000) and Adam’s Apples (2005). While I liked both of his earlier films, Men and Chicken is vastly better, my favorite film at #IIFFF so far.
It’s hard to categorize this brilliant film: it’s a family drama and a black comedy, as well as a horror film. It’s about a mad scientist (aptly named Evilio Thanatos) and about creating monsters. Men and Chicken inevitably evokes Frankenstein (as all mad scientist films do), but, still more directly, it echoes H. G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and the film based on it, The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932). The Island of Lost Souls, and Wells’ novel, deal particularly with a scientist bent on creating human-animal hybrids—also the project of Thanatos. His name (the word Freud used to signal the death drive) says everything about the success (and the costs) of his experiments.
In the aftermath of their father’s death, two brothers, Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Madds Mikkelsen), discover that he was not in fact their biological father. They travel to the Island of Ork to find their real father, but Evilio Thanatos, it turns out, is dead—which Gabriel discovers in a moment evocative of Lila’s discovery of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho, another film about the creation of monsters. The three other sons of Thanatos—Franz, Josef, and Gregor (names evocative of Franz Kafka, the protagonist of “The Metamorphosis,” and Josef Mengele)—are still alive, however, and so Gabriel and Elias decide to stay with what’s left of their family, in an abandoned asylum that is also home to chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits, and a massive bull named Isak.