Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Released on 15th July 2016
Just because you’re related to somebody it doesn’t mean that you’re going to get on with them. Or, put more succinctly, you can’t choose your family. Yet, curiously, we probably all dream of having the proverbial ideal family: not necessarily the Waltons, but one that gets on and is loving and supportive.
But what if they’re not exactly conventional? And what if they’re hiding a deeply unpleasant secret? They’re still family, after all, so what do you do?
It’s what confronts brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (a barely recognisable Mads Mikkelsen) in Men & Chicken. When their father dies, they discover he wasn’t their biological father, nor did they share the same mother, so they track down their real father in a sanatorium on a remote island. He lives there with three more sons, all of whom had different mothers but who share the family characteristic, a cleft palate. And the longer the two brothers stay, the more they find out.
This is a real melting pot of a film. It’s dark, hilariously funny, grotesque and violent, with just a bit of bestiality thrown in for good measure. But it isn’t just about family values: it ventures into deeper territory, raising the question of the sanctity of life, regardless of what that life is like and whether it fits in with society. If you’re going to sum it up, it’s best described as a warped fairy tale.
The biggest surprise is how funny it is – and it most definitely is, but in the darkest, bleakest, most violent and almost perverted way. From the video left by the brothers’ father which is so badly framed that the camera is permanently directed at the old man’s crotch, to the beatings that the two brothers receive when they first turn up in the hope of meeting their dad. Grim and uncomfortable, yes, but funny all the same.
The brothers – all five of them – are equally bizarre, all disguised to a greater or lesser degree under the most macabre of make-up. Mikkelsen is outstanding, miles away from his usual territory and clearly relishing a change of tone. He is truly grotesque, terrible at communicating and obsessed with sex, so much so that he carries a toilet roll with him for those times when he has to release that all-pervading tension. All the other actors have a ball with the material as well, making sure that all of the brothers are distinctive in their own right, even though they share more than just a facial characteristic. Their actions and attitudes are similar and they’re childlike in a lot of ways, with Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, again a long way from The Keeper Of Lost Causes series) probably closest to being a little boy. His hair cut looks like it was shaped by a pudding basin, and he’s almost as sex obsessed as Mikkelsen.
The rambling house on the island is filthy and overrun with animals, chickens in particular, some of which have the most disturbing mutations. And the house hides a secret that’s both grim and stomach churning, but anything less would have been a let-down in a film as twisted as this. That’s not to say it’s unwatchable, but neither is it done in the best possible taste.
The tone of the film changes, from the grotesque hilarity of the first half to the warped darkness of the second, so that by the time the end is in sight, it’s striking a disturbing and sinister chord. Overall, it’s not a comfortable watch, but it still retains a fascination and the five actors attack their roles with energy and sympathy. And, surprisingly, you’ll feel sympathetic towards them. Believe me, you will!
Men & Chicken is released in cinemas on Friday, 15 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 14 July.