The Station (Blutgletscher): Toronto Review

The Station - H - 2013
A compact genre item that offers enough variations on established clichés to keep things pacey and entertaining.

The second feature of Austrian genre director Marvin Kren ("Rammbock") stars Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Hille Beseler and the director's mother, actress Brigitte Kren.

TORONTO – After his promising hourlong debut, the zombies-in-Berlin film, Rammbock, Austrian director Marvin Kren turns things up a notch for The Station (Blutgletscher), a feature-length thriller-horror hybrid featuring mutated mountain creatures that appear at an Alpine glacier that’s mysteriously covered in a red substance that looks like blood.

Again written by Kren’s regular collaborator Benjamin Hessler, this is another compact genre item that offers enough variations on established clichés (from films like John Carpenter’s The Thing especially) to keep things pacey and entertaining. The science employed to explain the crossbreeding that creates the unsurprisingly aggressive animals is somewhat murky, but thrill-seeking fans are unlikely to object as this is a creature feature that’s all about how to battle the beasties -- hint: always keep a core drill handy -- and not how they came into this world, which seems of secondary interest at best.

The current moniker refers to the desolate climate outpost at 11,500 feet where most of the action takes place, though the film, called “Blood Glacier” in the original German, could be an easier sell with a less generic-sounding English title. IFC Midnight, which picked up rights to this Midnight Madness title in Toronto, should nonetheless see decent returns on its investment, especially in home-viewing formats such as VOD. It will be released in Austria on Sept. 27.

The closest the film has to a hero is Janek (Gerhard Liebmann), an antisocial drunk who runs around in his underwear outside despite the high altitude and who’s been slightly off his rocker ever since his girlfriend, Tanja (Edita Malovcic), who was also a scientist at the station, left him. He’s also one of the few people able to repair the equipment up at the station and its unmanned outposts, and it’s on one of these missions that he discovers that a glacier has been seemingly drenched in blood, which, in turn, has affected mountain wildlife.  

On the same day, Tanja is due to make her return to the station to accompany a group that includes a state minister (Brigitte Kren, the director’s actress mother and a recent contestant on Austria’s Dancing with the Stars) on an official visit. Both the visitors, slowly hiking their way up, and the scientists at the titular research facility are in for several prolonged attacks from the mutant mountain insects, birds and mammals that have become infected by the red ooze.

Kren’s preference for mechanical effects over CGI gives The Station an old-school look that works especially well for the smaller mutated creatures, such as a basketball-sized insect hybrid that Janek inadvertently locates when he relieves himself in the mountains (one of the film's numerous instances of humor).

But though the enormous creatures, from a flying nightmare attacking the minister’s delegation to a monster that starts to pound the titular location, are mostly shown in quick flashes and often in the dark, they never quite look convincing enough to scare up a storm, though the ominous soundscape and the score of Stefan Will and Marco Dreckkotter (both Rammbock alumni) work overtime to compensate for this, with the music especially giving this no-doubt modestly budgeted feature a more epic allure. Moritz Schultheiss's widescreen cinematography is another huge plus as it beautifully showcases the majestic locations.

Though quite a few end up (spoiler alert?) as creature fast-food, screenwriter Hessler nonetheless manages to quickly sketch an impressive gallery of adult characters -- refreshingly, there’s barely a teenager in sight -- from the serious scientist (Hille Beseler) who turns into a scream queen overnight to the bearded old local (Wolfgang Pampel, who looks like he escaped from a Swiss chocolate or cheese commercial) whose ingrained stoicism is severely tested when faced with the ferocious mutated species. Janek and the minister are the two most fully drawn characters, with Kren and Liebmann clearly having a ball.

Hessler and Kren even manage to sneak in hints of a love story amid the mayhem that has a fitting ending that’s both unexpectedly tender and disturbing.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness)

Production company: Allegro Film
Cast: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Hille Beseler, Peter Knaack, Felix Romer, Brigitte Kren
Director: Marvin Kren
Screenwriter: Benjamin Hessler
Producer: Helmut Grasser
Director of photography: Moritz Schultheiss
Production designer: Alexandra Maringer
Music: Stefan Will, Marco Dreckkotter
Editor: Daniel Prochaska
Sales: Rezo Films
No rating, 95 minutes