Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 10th, 2022
Breeder (Jens Dahl, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
With a title like Breeder, one might expect a very different kind of horror film than what we get in Danish director Jens Dahl’s sophomore feature. Given the evocative poster and tagline about “eternal youth,” I imagined despicable acts involving forced copulation and harvested fetal tissue. The fact that the movie has none of that is a welcome relief, though there is plenty to disturb, and even to intrigue. The resultant narrative is far from flawless, but offers enough provocation and, yes, horror (of the body variety) to keep one watching (or looking away) throughout.
Dahl (3 Things) captures his images with impressive precision, the lighting always on point. Everything looks and feels exquisitely crafted, especially the production design, even if not all sets prove dramatically coherent. Lead actress Sara Hjort Ditlevsen (Held for Ransom) makes an excellent protagonist, alternately helpless and strong, initially overcome by the terror she encounters but then facing it with steely resolve. And despite some unfortunate visual resonances with Eli Roth’s 2006 Hostel, the film avoids the worst of such comparisons.
Ditlevsen plays Mia, married to Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen, The Pact). She’s an equestrian and he a wealthy financier, connected via somewhat shady means (beyond even his full comprehension) to a cutting-edge medical-research firm run by one Dr. Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen, Wild Witch). Ruben (everyone just addresses her by her last name) wears a pristine, white lab coat, but though she may look the part of a respectable professional, she is anything but. Down in the basement of a dark, dank warehouse, she conducts unspeakable experiments.
And all for what? Apparently, she has discovered a treatment that reverses aging. Thomas teases Mia, early on, asking her if she knows Ruben’s age. She guesses forties. Try sixties. Nothing wrong with that, unless the way you get there involves other people’s misery.
And miserable they are, thanks to Ruben’s assistants, “the dog” (Morten Holst, Nun’s Deadly Confession) and “the pig” (Jens Andersen, Wonderful Copenhagen), who waste no opportunity to indulge their most sadistic, misogynistic proclivities. Why Ruben needs to engage in torture to achieve her ends is never explained. She’s ruthless and cares only about the vast monies to be made catering to the world’s elite. Apparently, she also gets off on cruelty.
The holes of the script (by Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen) notwithstanding, Dahl still manages to concoct a decent thriller, never quite descending into the gorefest we fear. The women may suffer, but a few graphically gratuitous scenes aside, their pain at least advances the story. In addition, the movie does a fine job examining the seduction of power and wealth. The ending leaves us marinating in nuance, a great place to be when considering the moral complexities raised. If you can stomach Breeder’s excess, there are uncomfortable truths within.