My first encounter with Men and Chicken, or Mænd & høns to use its native Danish title, was at Fantastic Fest 2015: an environment perfect for viewing this off kilter effort. Its inherent weirdness made it a perfect fit for Drafthouse Films, who now offer an opportunity to wallow in this depraved endeavor in the comfort of your own home.
The film is the tale of two brothers who discover they were adopted, following the death of their father. Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) has issues with control, both in terms of rage and self-gratification. Gabriel (David Dencik) is a more studious type, hindered by an awkwardness and extreme gag reflex. They both share a genetic trait, a cleft palate, now repaired leaving a distinct scar. Their father leaves them a video tape which gives them the name of their true progenitor, Dr. Evelio Thanatos. Their investigation leads them to the island of Ork, home to a small community of people within which they find a run-down sanitarium to be home to their father. Sequestered away on the upper floor, Gabriel and Elias must contend with their newly discovered half-brothers, a group as eclectic as they are. Over time, they discover the place to be home to not just their family, but a menagerie of animals and a dark secret about the truth behind their lineage.
The cover for the release carries a quote from Roger Ebert.com, calling the film a “hybrid of the Three Stooges comedy, and the Lunacy of The Island of Dr.Moreau“. That’s pretty spot on, but perhaps throw in a hint of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film certainly delivers on its title, there are men and chickens aplenty, but it’s also crammed with farcical humor, oddball characters and a twisted dose of genetics, courtesy of a man with a God complex. A truly dysfunctional family drama with a horror element.
It’s largely a character piece, these two misfit brothers thrown in with their three brothers who make their home in an abandoned asylum. Their behavior, removed from normal society, has reached even more extreme levels. Physical violence, “time-outs” in a cage, an obsession with taxidermy, cheese, indoor badminton and a dining plate hierarchy, to point out but a few of the quirks on display. It’s a showcase of weird traditions and twisted interpretations of civility and social behavior. The interplay between the brothers is equally hilarious and bizarre, a powder keg of a family unit continually threatening to explode, and it often does. Underneath the chaos is a family trying to sort out its issues, there are bonds between them, some physical, some psychological, and however weird the film gets, it often returns to a point where the bonds between them seem to be getting stronger, no matter how destructive their acts. It’s rather sweet, in a fucked up way.
David Dencik, known as a more serious actor with roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Brotherhood, centers the film as perhaps the most rational figure but still gets plenty of quirky moments to show a different side to his talents. Mads Mikkelsen takes his image as a cold, calculating villain from works such as Hannibal and Casino Royale and dispenses with it quicker than Elias gets through a roll of toilet paper. Elias is a hell of a warped creation and Mikkelsen disappears into the role completely.
It really is the depravity keeps you watching, the weird offbeat humor makes it more palatable. To his credit, writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen keeps the story keeps going as the weirdness and horror element unfolds around the brothers. It does meander a little, notably in the middle of the film, but the performances help move things along. Those little depraved moments usually circle round to something rather moving, culminating in a reveal that strengthens the family further, while hitting a peak in terms of grotesqueness.
THE PACKAGEMen and Chicken makes use of some fascinating locations, notably the dilapidated sanitarium the brother reside in which this transfer shows off well. It’s the sort of film requiring repeat viewing to catch all the little additions and is helped by the great detail, contrast and palette showcased on the Blu-ray.
The release comes with a reversible sleeve liner offering alternate cover art. It’s also in a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case, housing an accompanying 23 page booklet. Mimicking a portfolio from Evilio Thanatos himself, it contains a director’s statement, behind the scenes photos, images of concept art, various props and other practical effects including makeup and prosthetics. Sadly no special features are present on the actual disc (bar a few trailers), which is surprising. An audio commentary featuring the director and his cast would have been very welcome. A code for a digital download is included.
THE BOTTOM LINEMen and Chicken is a curiously farcical adventure, mired in a particular kind of filth. It’s not for everybody, an often twisted and absurdist affair, but some great performances and a undercurrent of family drama with some touching moments give it a lot of heart. A grotesque but oddly endearing effort, if you can embrace it.
Men and Chicken is available from October 25th from Drafthouse Films