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A Surreal Trip That Doesn’t Stick The Landing – Cuckoo – Raindance 2024 (Film Review)

2 min read
Hunter Schafer in Cuckoo

Whatever you think Cuckoo is about from its spine-chilling marketing campaign, think again. Even Cuckoo doesn't seem exactly sure of what it is as Tilman Singer's surreal, dramatic, comedic, nightmare-inducing horror comes to 2024 to kick off the festivities. Following its world premiere at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, the unusual film has generated buzz thanks, in part, to its uncomfortable, eerie trailer and a star-studded cast featuring and .

Cuckoo tells the story of Gretchen, an American teen who moves to a resort in the German Alps with her father Luis (Marton Csokas), step-mom Beth (Jessica Henwick), and mute half-sister Alma (Mila Lieu). Once there, she meets the unusual Mr. König, her father's boss, who takes an intense interest Alma. Gretchen soon suspects something isn't right with their new home, compounded by the strange, other-worldly noises she begins hearing at night.

From the opening scenes, Cuckoo feels disjointed.  It seems as if it is trying to create a surreal, dream-like atmosphere where audiences can never quite trust what they see onscreen, but instead, it feels as if it never quite hits its stride, unable to discover just what kind of film it is. It blends horror, thriller, and comedy in a bold way, but it never quite satisfies in any area while also veering from over-explaining to under-explaining plot points in quick succession.

The sound design also jumps from atmospheric and immersive with billowing wind and distorted squawks and chirping, to unbearably loud for the sake of a cheap shock which, along with its abundance of jump scares, feels like an easy thrill. But it dances so effectively, creating a painfully uncomfortable cinematic world.

Cuckoo is elevated by its performances, with Schafer captivating as troubled teen Gretchen and Stevens a barrel of laughs as the pseudo-Bond villain König. Gretchen and Alma's relationship adds to the peril and stakes of the overall film, but it never quite goes deep and dark enough to give the audience a real payoff. The monster of the piece is unnerving enough, for more reasons than one, as it unravels exactly where the source of the evil resides.

Cuckoo is unique, with an incredibly out-there concept that audiences won't soon forget. However, the film never develops from a cool idea as it flounders under the weight of its complicated ideas that never feel fully realised. If Cuckoo fully leaned into its, well, cuckoo elements, it could have been an instant midnight classic, but it's held back by its lack of clear direction.

Cuckoo screened at Raindance Film Festival on July 19. It is released in UK cinemas on August 23.