Antibodies (Antikörper) (2005)

Antibodies (Antikörper) first published by Film4

summary: The Hollywood psychothriller meets the German morality play in Christian Alvart‘s intelligent twister.

Review: There is a long tradition of police dramas (or Krimis) on German television, and sometimes on the big screen. In 2002, Robert Schwentke’s Tattoo gave the genre a Seven-inflected overhaul. Christian Alvart‘s Antibodies also draws inspiration from the Hollywood crime picture, but it never forgets its more domestic roots, with even the main character’s dog sharing its name (Schimanski) with the cop from the long-running German TV series Tatort – and while Antobodies follows all the conventions of a modern psychothriller, barely concealed beneath its surface is a far more ancient variety of morality play. 

After a violent police raid on his charnelhouse apartment in Berlin, the psychopath Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) is captured and readily confesses to the brutal sexual murders of a dozen young boys. So it is naturally assumed that Gabriel was also responsible for the unsolved murder and mutilation of Lucia Flieder, a 12-year-old girl from outlying Herzbach, and at last the rural village can begin to feel free from the pall of suspicion and recrimination that has beset it since the outrage took place.

Until, that is, Herzbach’s devoutly Catholic police chief Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring), whose wayward son Christian (Hauke Diekamp) was a friend of the girl, pays the killer a visit in his cell, and hears Gabriel claim not to have committed the crime himself, but rather to have witnessed it taking place and to know the identity of the guilty party. And so the mind games begin, as Michael becomes unhinged in uncovering a version of the truth that he both fears and desires.

“What did you expect? Hannibal Lecter?”, mocks Gabriel on his first meeting with Michael, before doing a fair impression of slurping down liver and fava beans with a nice chianti – and so, as an agent of the law seeks information from an imprisoned serial killer about another murder, Alvart openly acknowledges his debt to The Silence of the Lambs (1990), while also suggesting a radical departure from Jonathan Demme’s film. Even the high security detention centre in which the cat-and-mouse interviews take place is no gothic dungeon, but a modern, sterile facility bathed in unforgiving light – and while Antibodies has its share of grand guignol and sensationalist thrills, it is also a deadly serious investigation into the nature of good and evil, the corruption of innocence, and the infectious danger of doubt. 

As monstrously ingenious as the killer at its centre, Antibodies contains enough knife-edge twists and turns in its plot to confound anyone’s moral compass. Far from presenting a straightforward struggle between good and evil, the films sets city against country, Old Testament vindictiveness against New Testament forgiveness, and traditional piety against postmodern godlessness, while blurring the boundaries between all these oppositions. Even the ‘redemptive’ ending, which at first appears to assert the victory of faith over proof, morphs into something more bleakly ambiguous the more you allow yourself to think it through. 

Add to this an array of compromised characters, earthy performances, nerve-shattering suspense, and direction as manipulative as Gabriel’s every utterance, and you have a sophisticatedly modern noir that sorts the sheep from the lambs.

Verdict: Like The Silence of the Lambs‘ more mature sibling, Christian Alvart’s Antibodies is psychodrama at its most chillingly intelligent and morally challenging.

Anton Bitel