What We Become (2015)

Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015

Sorgenfri, the municipality of Greater Copenhagen which is both the setting and the original Danish title of writer/director Bo Mikkelsen’s feature debut What We Become, translates literally as ‘Carefree.’ It is an etymology that is severely ironised by a prologue, lifted from near the film’s chronological end, in which we see blood-spattered, distraught mother Pernille Johansson (Mille Dinese) trying to reassure her young daughter that “Everything’s going to be ok,” as someone – or something – comes violently through the door.

After a very arresting title sequence, we cut to a few days earlier. The Johanssons are an ordinary middle-class family living their carefree life in sunny Sorgenfri, when a mysterious viral outbreak sees them and other residents confined to their homes and surrounded by a panicky, trigger-happy military. The story is told, just like George A. Romero’s undead urtext Night of the Living Dead (1968), from a beleaguered group’s limited perspective, and focuses, like Chris Gorak’s Right At Your Door (2006), on the paranoia that comes with an official quarantine imposed without public explanation. While the Danish bourgeois neighbourhood is terra incognita for this subgenre, the narrative itself feels rather conventional. Yet the direction is accomplished,  and there are occasional surrealist flourishes – suburban homes wrapped in plastic sheeting like Christo installations, or a pack of infected locals gathered around a street lamp to stare up at its light in unison – that leave much more of an impression than all the tired zombie business.

Anton Bitel