It has been a few years since I first saw Christian Alvart’s crime thriller Antikörper, aka Antibodies, yet the film has lingered in my mind all these years.
I had the opportunity to revisit it yesterday.
Here’s my review and analysis (well, sort of.)
👌 No spoiler.
“Antikörper” is an unsettling piece of crime thriller film that has lost none of its potency despite the passage of time. Director Christian Alvart displays a confident control of tone and characterization for an exciting, emotionally tense narrative. But what lingers most is how it poses probing questions about societal structures and individual morality in disturbingly relatable ways. Not a simple thriller, it stays with the viewer by burrowing under their skin rather than providing momentary shocks. For these reasons, I can still strongly recommend Antikörper as required viewing for fans of this genre, ranking it 4/5 stars.
✋ Spoiler alert.
The film wastes no time grabbing you from the opening sequence, immersed in dimly lit scenes and unrelenting tension as police storm the apartment of serial killer Gabriel Engel. Played chillingly by Andre Hennicke, Engel is captured after a brutal battle that saw him murder 13 young boys.
The scene perfectly sets the unsettling tone for what is to follow. We are given a glimpse into the darkness that resides within Engel, whose violence is contrasted against the sterile white background of the apartment once the carnage is over.
It’s then we are introduced to Michael Martens, a country cop who refuses to believe Engel’s string of murders is over. With Lucia, a young girl from his small village, still missing, Martens travels to the city to interrogate Engel himself.
From their first intense meeting, Engel sees Martens as someone he can manipulate and toy with for his sadistic amusement. Wotan Wilke Möhring brings a quiet intensity to Martens, whose stoic resolve will gradually disappear as Engel’s psychopathic mind games take their toll.
Where the film truly excels is in its depiction of the complex power dynamic between hunter and hunted. Rather than focus on gore or shock value, Alvart’s script is a thoughtful dissection of human psychology, with the confinement settings between Martens and Engel serving as a microcosm for their clash of moralities.
Their interrogations are compelling and tense as the two men size one another up and probe for weaknesses to exploit. Hennicke commands the screen, bringing a startling believability to Engel’s manipulations.
Through cunning wordplay and twisting of truths, Engel slowly chips away at Martens’ stability and grasp on reality until it’s unclear where his lies end and truths begin. It’s a disturbing portrayal of how eloquently an individual with sociopathic intelligence can infiltrate another’s mind.
Martens finds his beliefs and equilibrium challenged in unsettling ways, his fragility gradually exposed through Engel’s taunts and insinuations. Möhring conveys this mental unraveling in a subtly unsettling fashion, appealing to show the human side of a good man pushed to his limits.
Alvart also deserves praise for releasing Engel entirely from glamorization. Where someone like Hannibal Lecter attained a twisted respect in films, Engel is merely a loathsome, twisted presence. His crimes against children are discussed in a realistically dark manner that grounds the story in a believable evil.
It’s a welcome decision that prevents Engel from achieving some perverse notoriety or mystique. This element, combined with Hennicke’s scary embodiment of him, ensures Engel remains a figure to be dispelled rather than one admired.
What I appreciated most was how the film uses its confined setting to explore deeper themes of faith, justice, and human morality in intriguing ways.
Martens comes from a small, deeply religious community that places a strong emphasis on the values of righteousness. His crisis of identity reflects not just his unraveling but a larger metaphor for losing touch with the solid framework of beliefs that provide stability and purpose. Engel represents the antithesis of these virtues and doubt’s corrosive nature.
Though some have likened Antikörper to Silence of the Lambs, this is an oversimplification. While it utilizes a similar interrogation dynamic, Alvart’s aim isn’t imitation but dissecting how conventional notions of justice and spiritual fortitude collapse when pushed to their extremes.
The film works on intriguing psychosocial levels beyond mere thriller conventions. Its issues feel urgently relevant given the increasing secularization and moral relativism in societies today.
To be fair, the plot does hit some familiar beats seen in other serial killer thrillers. But Alvart’s confident, nuanced direction keeps things consistently compelling and unpredictable to a degree that minor predictability is forgivable.
I also appreciated how the central romance adds a grounding emotional anchor without derailing the psychological elements. And Britsch’s moody score is perfect at setting an unsettling atmosphere.
In the end, Antikörper succeeds in being that rare thriller that stays long in the mind after finishing precisely because it explores its themes on an intellectual level beyond visceral thrills.
Over 17 years later, it feels just as potent a meditation on humanity’s darkness and our collective struggle between stability and change and right versus wrong.
While not flawless, Alvart’s debut feature showed a command and sophistication well beyond his years that set the stage for an impressively thoughtful directorial career. My appreciation for the film has only grown since that initial viewing.