You don’t realize just how much information a film can get across visually until you stumble across one that has virtually no dialogue, nothing but images — archetypal characters and situations — to tell its story.
“Autumn Blood” is such a film, an odd, unpleasant 2011 thriller from Austria only now earning limited U.S. release. It’s a reminder of why so few filmmakers experiment with visual-only storytelling. It’s hard to pull off.
On an Alpine farm, a girl (Sophie Lowe) and her brother (Maximilian Harnisch) live with their mother, milk their cows and enjoy their remote lives. The only unpleasantness they deal with comes from assorted brutish men in the town below. As the girl blossoms into a nubile teen, their interest turns creepy and violent.
Our introduction to this world came when the kids were younger. Their father dashed off to confront the mayor (veteran character actor Peter Stormare) over something to do with the kids’ mother. No words were exchanged. Gunshots were, and dad was killed.
When mom dies, years later, the kids are afraid to tell anyone. The girl, it quickly turns out, has the most to fear. First one then others from the village figure out Mom’s not around, and rape the girl.
And when a social worker shows up asking questions, snooping around, those thugs figure they’d better get rid of the victim and the witness.
The unfortunately-named Markus Blunder, a veteran cinematographer and second-unit director, took the helm here, and the pretty pictures show that pictorial touch. Few films shot in this lovely setting make it to America, and “Autumn Blood” is nothing if not stark and beautiful.
The setting, clothing, characters and farm implements are (mostly) European. The characters speak English and one villain drives a new Ford pick-up. So this version of a classic “Straw Dogs” set up — cruel yokels hunting the hapless and helpless — is indeterminate in terms of locale. The Butcher, The Hunter, The Mayor, they are EveryCreep, man as greedy abuser — violent, sex-crazed gun nuts.
Blunder doesn’t totally botch the pursuit of the kids, but the script makes the little boy maddeningly, melodramatically inept and keeps finding excuses for the teen girl to take her clothes off.
Which adds up to “Autumn Blood” only earning limited release three years after it was finished.
MPAA Rating: R for violence including rape, and nudity
Cast: Sophie Lowe, Peter Stormare, Maximilian Harnisch
Credits: Directed by Markus Blunder, written by Stephen T. Barton, Markus Blunder. An Arc Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:40
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