Upon entering the theatre a sparse crowd of around 20 people meets me where the largest group is about 7-8 teenagers conversing in the back rows. The co-director of the GFF takes centre stage to introduce the afternoon’s film. She begins by explaining this film is “intense” and at times “difficult to watch,” due to the subject matter. This is the only film that has had a warning preceding its screening. As the lights dimmed and the curtain was spread I quickly understood the advisory.
Michael is the horrific story describing the last five months of 10 year-old Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) and 35 year-old Michael’s (Michael Fuith) involuntary life together. Michael is a successful insurance salesman working his way towards a new promotion. He takes vacations with friends and has a certain unexplainable knack for getting women’s attention. His entirely forgettable look doesn’t seem to hurt him, as much as helps him remain unnoticed. This is extremely important for Michael because he is methodical with his daily activities and responsibilities. It is also important because he keeps a small child heavily locked behind a sky-blue door in his soundproof basement.
Following a strictly coordinated diner shared between the two, prepared by Michael, they clean up ensuring every dish is washed and put away. After, Wolfgang is allowed to watch television until 9:00pm but absolutely no later, then it is back to the basement. Michael returns upstairs, watches the television a little longer, changes into his sleepwear, brushes his teeth and grabs lubricant as he heads downstairs. Then it’s back to the bathroom to clean himself off then bedtime.
There are few crimes quite like child abuse that are so universally condemned. There is no sympathy for those who have been convicted (even accused really) of this crime and many would like to revert to a Medieval-style of justice and wish for a number of things to happen to this scum. Even many other criminals won’t tolerate the abuse of children for any reason and dole out their own punishment once the convicted is in prison. So the decision to have the main-character of this film to be the actual paedophile is something never done before. What’s more, this person calls his mother (Christine Kain), has lunch with his sister and acts in a way that – if you can forget the boy – is altogether decent.
The brilliance of this film comes from its simplicity. The camera almost seems like a home recorder placed on a tripod with the most advanced technique being a panning shot. This comes of very naturally through the keen eye of writer/director Markus Schleinzer where in less experienced hands could be seen as novice filmmaking. The majority of the film is shot with a still camera while the scene unfolds before it. One in particular is a sickening sequence of Michael reciting the lines of a movie he just watched. Pulling out his penis and picking up a knife he tells Wolfgang, “This is my cock and this is my knife, which shall I stick in you,” all the while on the verge of breaking from giggle to full-blown laughter. By keeping the family still the audience is forced to watch this ghastly sequence play out.
Growing up during the cell-phone age, I was always required to check in with my folks every couple hours just to let them know what was going on, who I was with, what my plans were, yada yada yada. I had a problem with this when I was a child and I still am annoyed I had to check in so often. If I forgot to call I would be punished when I got home, usually a verbal assaults followed by a slap in the face for talking back to them. But it wasn’t fair; they had always spoken fondly about hopping on their bike in the morning and not returning home until long past the streetlights came on. I’ve now come to realize something changed in the late 70s/early 80s as press coverage of child abduction cases received more publicity. This ignited the fear in a new generation of parents that will now never go away; no longer would “use your head” qualify as good parenting. Now, after seeing Michael, I understand why. Upon leaving the theatre I was suspect of everyone and just wanted to get home and lock the door behind me.
It’s the reality of Michael that makes it the terrifying movie that it is. Though Michael can come off as a decent person to his friends, family and colleagues it remains very clear he is a monster. Wolfgang never leaves the mind even though Michael receives much more screen time. Fuith’s performance is chilling to the point one might have to take their eyes off him to be reminded he’s just a character on the screen. This riveting character study is one that is sure to captivate, as it is to turn your stomach. Michael is the tale of a real life bogeyman who, at the end of the day, only cares for himself and his desires.
Reviewer – David Rowley (@thedavidrowley)
Director – Markus Schleinzer
Writer – Markus Schleinzer
Cast – Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger, Christine Kain