Homespun Dissociation – Human Factors (Sundance 2021 Film Review)

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A mesh of high-tension thrills and contemporary arthouse tropes,  Ronny Trocker’s stifling domestic drama Human Factors perfectly balances the humanity and terror within the nuclear family dynamic. Highlighting a life-altering event in a remote countryside home, the film follows a family’s internal turmoil as they test their own relationships in nonlinear fashion. Constantly moving forwards and backwards in time, shifting perspectives at any given moment, Trocker creates a creative puzzle out of the most simplistic elements of cinema. Human Factors can be best described as an Östlund-esque production, designed and shaped with the same level of cold intricacy of a Michael Haneke feature. Though even with the apt comparison, the film is an entirely different beast on its own thematic grounds. 

While it would be easy to directly compare the plodding semantics of Human Factors with various other European films such as the modern cult-classic Force Majeure, Trocker inventively re-designs a narrative out of common family-based ideas and concepts. His purposeful eye for swift camera movement and a consistently pale colour scheme creates a level of coldness and anguish upon the film’s cast of characters. Alongside Trocker’s impressive singular vision, these aforementioned techniques perfectly emulate the cold demeanour of the father in the film, and his obstructed behaviour towards his wife and children. As the stakes come to fruition — with the recurring subplot of the creation of an advertisement campaign for a notorious political party — the more beguiling and investing Human Factors becomes.  

What is revealed by the end credits is an intricate case study on the familiar effects of paranoia how restless irrationality can bring a sense of weary despair and crumbling complexity upon the normalcy of a modern first-world family. Human Factors is most effective when the film directly focuses on the opening burglary incident at play, alongside all vital events taking place within the vacation home. But whenever the film crosses the line between urban family life and the central deteriorating dynamic at play, the shift in locations and time comes with varying degrees of emotional investability. Sometimes, the shift in location subverts expectations with ease. Other times, it just merely reiterates material that could have easily been cut. 

But what is accomplished at the end of Human Factors is undeniably impeccably crafted on a technical scale. Structurally layered and bold in its bodacious simplicity, the film is an effective deconstruction of parental mania. It’s a knockout exercise in the performance of perspective. A film arguably more emotionally grueling and terrifying on an emotional plane compared with the majority mainstream horror. A film that will simmer in the minds of its viewers, long after the credits role.

Dir: Ronny Trocker

Scr: Ronny Trocker

Cast: Sabine Timoteo, Mark Waschke, Jule Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube

DOP: Klemens Hufnagl

Country: Germany/Italy/Denmark

Year: 2021

Run time: 102 minutes

Human Factors premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category. The film will screen again virtually on January 31st. Human Factors is also currently seeking international distribution.

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David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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