Director: Jens Dahl
Cast: Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Signe Egholm Olsen, Anders Heinrichsen, Morten Holst
Runtime: 107 mins
Language: Danish (with optional English subtitles)
Release Date: 15 February 2021
Jamie Havlin assesses a brutal modernist survival horror from Denmark.
The first words we hear in Breeder are those of Mia Lindberg (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen). A keen equestrian rider who hopes to represent her country at the next Olympics, she explains that she doesn’t like dogs after being bitten as a child. She does, though, love her horse Karat. “I have to believe that I know what’s best for him. But maybe all I really am is his jailer.”
Mia’s married to investment banker Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen). She wants a baby. He shies away from sexual contact with her, despite appearing to be a loving husband. The result of this is Mia chooses to get her kicks masochistically by using the spur of her riding boot on her own body.
Maybe Thomas’s coldness is somehow connected to his professional relationship with Dr. Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen). She believes she has developed an innovative technique that can genetically reverse the ageing process in men, with the same process for women in the pipeline. During an interview she denies testing the treatment on herself. She would be a great advert for it. She is 61 but looks at least 15 years younger.
Her revolutionary discovery could potentially make her staggeringly wealthy, but her breakthrough has only been achieved through the darkest of means. Ruben has pursued a ruthless policy of having young women kidnapped, and then bio-hacked in her highly secretive “research unit.” Grotesque experiments are carried out on these prisoners, and I should warn you that some of these are depicted in very graphic detail.
One female is electrically shocked with a high voltage cattle prod. Another has her lips stapled together with a nail gun. When one complains of toothache, she has the tooth yanked out with pliers without the aid of any anaesthetic. And these aren’t even the most gruesome incidents that you’ll witness here.
Mia’s neighbour’s Russian au-pair Nika (Eeva Putro) turns up at the Lindbergs’ door, banging desperately. She’s hysterical, covered in blood, and her arm appears to have been newly branded, just like a photo that Mia recently came across on Thomas’s laptop.
She wants to take Nika to the police immediately. He insists on taking her to A&E and is adamant that Mia stays at home. Later, when she phones the hospital, Nika has not been registered at reception.
Suspicious about what her husband might be involved in, she drives to the headquarters of Ruben Rejuvenation, determined to discover the truth of what is happening around her. Her life is about to be changed forever.
Previously, I had only known Jens Dahl for co-writing the screenplay for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher. He does an effective job directing here, displaying a particular gift for evoking a real atmosphere of dread. Sadly, though, the script lets the film down.
Ruben’s most trusted jailor is known as The Dog (Morten Holst). Why such a brilliant mind would rely on a man like this remains a mystery. He even doubles up as a research assistant and is allowed into her lab, helping her collate data while wearing oil-stained clothes and with his face caked in dirt and sweat. When she insults him about his incompetence, he protests about the hard work he puts in for her. Ruben reminds him that he’s “a sadistic misogynist” and she’s letting him live out his dreams. But if his dreams also included strangling her, you wouldn’t remotely fancy her chances of stopping him.
Before seeing Breeder, I had next to no knowledge of the development of life-extending medicines and treatments. I still don’t, although I’m guessing that any pioneering advances in this area would have to be carried out in sterile laboratories overseen by a large team of highly qualified scientists. Not by one female who supposedly only studied as a vet, and two psychos torturing women in squalid cells.
The first third of Breeder is very 2020s. Today, a number of billionaires are already looking forward to a world where not only do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer but the rich get younger and the poor get older. What followed reminded me of some women-in-prison exploitation flicks from the 1970s like House of Whipcord, but with added torture porn elements and some very far from subtle social commentary thrown in.
The story did continue to grip throughout while also feeling increasingly like a disappointment.
Extras include an interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen and a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Kat Ellinger.
For more on the release click here.
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.