Holy Shit! (Ach du Scheisse!) had its UK première at FrightFest 2022
A blonde woman dressed in a builder’s hard hat, work overalls and incongruous heels dances lasciviously under lights as she does a strip tease, with a dynamite stick in her hand and sweat dripping from her bared breasts. If this opening to writer/director Lukas Rinker’s feature debut Holy Shit! (Ach du Scheisse!) comes across as pure tacky fantasy, that is because it is in fact a dream. For as water – like that sweat – drips onto the face of architect Frank Lamm (Thomas Niehaus), he wakes from his unconscious state to discover that he is lying in an overturned porta-loo, his forearm painfully impaled on a long steel rod that has penetrated the toilet, his forehead bloody, and a poster of that blonde hanging on the door (which now forms the cabin’s ceiling). “Ach du Scheisse!”, he exclaims, in what are both the film’s first spoken words and its German title, as he starts to realise the messiness of his predicament – and indeed Frank is in the shit not just metaphorically but quite literally.
A workaholic who pays nowhere near enough attention to his loving girlfriend Marie (Olga von Luckwald), Frank now finds himself at deadly odds with his boss, the wannabe mayor Horst Wolf (Gedeon Buckhard) who will stop at nothing to erect a new hotel complex, even if that means blowing up owl-protecting Ministry of the Environment representative Miss Dörte Grün (Friederike Kempfer) and Frank along with the old mansion that was previously the residence of Horst’s father. So now Frank is injured, trapped and incommunicado in a site set to explode – and if he is to escape with his life, he is going to have to think outside the box.
Holy Shit! joins a recent microgenre or films – like Christian James’ Stalled (2013), Roberto San Sebastián’s The Night of the Virgin (2016), Sean King O’Grady’s We Need To Do Something (2021) and Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious (2022) – which confine much of their action to toilets. It is a way of reducing characters to their corporeal selves and bodily functions, and testing what more there might be to them beyond fluids, waste and abjection. Frank may start off as a barely likeable white-collar drone, but he is on a hero’s journey to save not just himself but the nearby Grün and his crumbling relationship with Marie, all without leaving the increasingly bespattered interiors of the portable toilet. Using the limited resources he has to hand, as well as his building-site knowhow, he must work out what exactly is going on and how to get out in more or less one piece, and carry out a series of mini missions that in normal circumstances would be simple to execute but now are physical ordeals. The claustrophobic setting is shot from every available angle, while momentary escape comes from flashbacks, dreams and even conversations with a talking toilet seat.
As the opening softcore scene suggests, the one thing that you will not find in Holy Shit! is subtlety. Here, as a Lamm is locked in mortal combat with a Wolf, and as an ‘eco-slut’ has a surname that means ‘Green’, all in the fictive Bavarian small town of Blastetten (which means something like ‘Blah-ville’, with a sly interlinguistic reference to the coming ‘blast’), the characterisation is as broad as the setting is narrow, with many of the jokey misfires starting to stink as much as Frank by the end.
strap: Lukas Rinker’s claustrophobic comedy thriller sees an architect trying to escape the porta-loo in which he has been trapped
© Anton Bitel