Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Roots of Evil, on MHz Choice

Many American serial killer movies predictably depict the serial killer as a Jesus-freak. In this German thriller, the serial murderer was warped by Norse mythology. It is a case that involves two seemingly contradictory yet intertwined toxic belief systems: one is old and pagan, while the other is the recently discredited Communism of the bad but not so old GDR. Two cops, one from the East and one from the West, investigate the pre- and post-Unification killings in the six-episode The Roots of Evil, directed by Stephan Rick, which premieres Tuesday on MHz Choice.

The Cold War was not kind to Ulrike Bandow, because of her mother’s unsuccessful escape attempt to the West. She and her younger brother Marc largely survived thanks to her father, an honest cop, who was killed under mysterious circumstances. That left her to largely raise Marc on her own, when their mother’s second attempt succeeded.

Not surprisingly, she followed in her father’s footsteps, serving under his old partner, Jurgen Dubbe. She prefers to do her own lone wolf thing, but she must accept a new partner from Hamburg, Koray Larssen. Maybe she should be more suspicious regarding his willingness to work in the provincial former GDR, but she has issues distracting her. Marc has fallen in with band nativist thugs, to ingratiate himself with the stepfather of his new girlfriend, Sabrina. To make things even more awkward, Sabrina’s mother, Chista Schreiber, is Bandow’s estranged childhood friend.

When a ritualistic murder victim is discovered, Bandow is alarmed by the resemblance of her wounds to some marks found on Schreiber decades earlier. At the time, she claimed to be abused by a mysterious group of men somehow related to her state orphanage. Bandow’s father and Dubbe discredited her story. Not surprisingly, Bandow’s friendship was collateral damage. However, the disappearance of a second girl quickly convinces Bandow and Larssen they have a serial killer on their hands, one possibly related to Schreiber’s orphanage.

At least Ingrid Heisler, the weird girl from the prologue, probably will not be his next victim, even though she found the first victim. Her family’s rustic lifestyle and her knowledge of runes and “the old way” apparently creates a feeling of kinship for her heavy-breathing observer. Being weird probably does not hurt either.

Many of the themes and plot elements of
Roots of Evil are very much like those previously developed in Divided We Stand. Both series focus an odd couple pair of cops from West and East Germany, investigating a crime that dates back to the recently fallen Communist regime. However, Roots has a darker tone that sometimes borders on serial killer horror. It is also less preoccupied with the politics of post-Unification and culture clashes between East and West—it is still there, but it is not as fully explored. The killer’s sinister paganism is the series’ driving engine.

Regardless, Henriette Confurius and Fahri Yardim are both quite good as Bandow and Larssen. They are rock-solid handling the procedural business, but as Brother Marc, Filip Schnack’s teen angst is abrasively annoying. Cloe Heinrich is excellent as peculiar Ingrid, but Rick just cannot find the handle for her scene stalking or being stalked by the killer. Instead of building terror, these sequences are confusing and uncomfortable, in a “what am I watching?” kind of way. That is somewhat surprising, because Rick rather deftly helmed the not-classic, but still impressively overachieving Val Kilmer B-movie,
The Super.

However, the supporting cast adds a lot of grit and era-appropriate world-weariness. Angela Hantsch is a neurotic, quick-tempered mess as Schreiber and Jorge Witte brings a lot of complexity to the compromised Dubbe, but somehow all the contradictory aspects of his portrayal are deeply sad. Witte was also excellent in a smaller role in
Divided We Stand, so if you need a late middle-aged supporting actor for a post-Unification series, he is your man.

Frankly, the introduction of the killer’s real identity is somewhat clumsy and the series also leaves a lot of loose ends. Yet, the East-meets-West buddy cop formula still works, especially when it addresses the corruption and cruelty of the Communist system. Not as good as
Divided We Stand, it will still keep rapid cop-procedural fans hooked, because it is better than dozens of Dick Wolf franchises. Mostly recommended for the shrewd employment of East German history and settings, The Roots of Evil starts streaming Tuesday (4/30) on MHz Choice.