Taking its cues from the ‘new French extreme’ film movement that began, or at least gained worldwide attention, in the 00s with films such as Martyrs (2008) and Inside (2007) – films that not only satisfied horror fans and gore hounds collective hunger for brutal gore but also offered gritty realism with, sometimes, a deeper meaning and message – 2019’s Danish bio-hacking survival horror Breeder certainly has its own interesting vision and message to sit alongside some of the classics from the controversial sub-genre.
Directed by Jens Dahl – probably most well known for writing cult Danish crime thriller Pusher (1996) – and premiered at Frightfest in October 2020, Breeder is based around ruthless, power hungry businesswoman and scientist Dr. Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen) selecting and then abducting young women as part of a diabolical experiment in bio-hacking babies’ DNA so that her clients can reverse the ageing process. Caught up in this is Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) whose husband, Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen), works for the same health supplement company as Dr. Ruben and is curious and sceptical about her motives and plans for her latest age-defying experiment.
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These opening scenes are nicely done as we see the main characters set up: Mia an attractive and loving wife but also with a sexual kink that Thomas, a dedicated, clearly wealthy man, isn’t altogether comfortable with, and Dr. Ruben, a clever but cunning woman who appears to have a strange working relationship with Thomas that provides some awkward chemistry between the pair.
So with this strong enough introduction to the film and main characters, does Breeder deliver when it gets to the main course? Fortunately, the answer is mostly yes, as it delivers a nice little twist that leads to Mia investigating and ending up at what looks like some sort of abandoned factory. It’s there that not only does Mia stumble across what is actually happening but also ends up in danger herself, as it looks as if she could be on Dr. Ruben’s list for her twisted bio-hacking experiments.
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By this point in Breeder, fans of the French extremity film movement might be wondering where all the jaw-droppingly brutal violence and gore is, and to be fair, if a viewer went in thinking this would be exactly like Martyrs, Inside or Alexandre Aja’s 2003 psycho-truck-driver-with-a twist-horror, High Tension/Switchblade Romance, they might be disappointed. But it is worth acknowledging that Jens Dahl isn’t aiming to recreate the films from that era, and instead is trying to make his own film with his own vision. Yes, you can draw comparisons between Breeder and some of the themes in these films but it is more to do with the message and meaning and deeper themes than it is the blood, guts and gore that the French films also contain.
Having said that, Breeder does contain a few moments of brutality, as the victims of Dr Ruben’s experiments are not treated well to say the least. The mad scientist has a couple of heavies doing the dirty work for her and this leads to a few nice, violent moments for all involved thanks to The Dog (Morton Hoist) and one or two others. Add in a shocking discovery of the real victims in Dr. Ruben’s messed up laboratory of sorts and the boxes are ticked for fans of in-your-face confrontational horror.
As Breeder draws to a close, you realise it has been an interesting, at times exciting, at times intense but also quite a bleak and challenging journey. Whether you see this as a positive depends on your view on these types of films, but as brutal survival horror goes, Breeder hits the spot.
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Extras for the Blu-ray release of Breeder include an interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard. Also included is a nicely presented booklet featuring a new, in-depth essay on the film by historian Kat Ellinger, including on-set pictures.
Overall, Breeder might not quite be up there with the best of its genre, but it does have a certain element of suspense throughout which makes it gripping. It also has its fair share of solid performances, shocking moments, and brutal violence, making it well worth a watch. Intelligent, interesting and inventive film making.
Breeder is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.