Sunday, June 12, 2022

Tribeca ’22: Family Dinner

We need to get horror film directors some sort of group subscription to Discovery+, because they need to start developing healthier relationships with food. You would think there would be plenty of healthy eating in this film, because Simi’s Aunt Claudia is a nutritionist, but the ominous countdown to Easter dinner clearly implies something awful will be happening in screenwriter-director Peter Hengl’s Family Dinner, which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Tired of getting bullied over her weight, Simi invited herself to Aunt Claudia’s rural Austrian farm over Easter break, in hopes she could get some personal weight-loss mentoring. The thing is, Claudia (an aunt by a marriage-now-divorced) is not as welcoming as Simi hoped—but her new husband Stefan is weirdly hospitable. Her cousin Filipp is probably downright hostile, but he isn’t getting along so well with his mother and Stefan either.

Despite some initial misgivings, Aunt Claudia agrees to help Simi, but her rigorous program borders on the draconian. It seems physically unhealthy and the mind games grow increasingly sinister. On the other hand, Stefan finds Simi more useful than Filipp during a hunting trip, so she has that positive reinforcement going for her.

There is a lot of slow-boiling in
Family Dinner, but it is pretty clear what is it all heading towards. Not to be spoilery, but if you really think about the title, it is a dead giveaway. Unfortunately, Hengl expects the climax will be so shocking, it will make up for the slowness of the build and the lack of significant plot points.

Be that as it may, Nina Katlein is terrific as Simi. We get why she keeps putting up with Aunt Claudia’s horrible regimen and why she stays in general, even though her instincts repeatedly tell her to get the heck out. It is terrible what kids have to endure, so viewers will feel for her. Nina Katlein and Michael Pink are also all kinds of unsettling as Claudia and Stefan, but Hengl can’t fully capitalize on their squirrelliness.

Based on this film and
A Banquet, it doesn’t look like “Culinary horror” deserves to catch on as a thing in itself. It should just be a constituent part of a bigger idea, as it is in the Vincent Price classic, Theater of Blood. Nicely acted, but too obvious to really lower the boom, Family Dinner screens again Wednesday (6/15) as part of this year’s Tribeca.