On March 9, 2001, Armin Meiwes, a computer expert met Bernd Brandes, a 43-year old engineer. What happened later that night would shake the German legal system to its very foundation. Meiwes, with the explicit consent of Brandes, severed the man’s penis, cooked it and served it to the pair for dinner. Later Meiwes would kill Brandes with a butcher knife and over the course of the next several weeks, cook and eat over 20 kilos of his flesh. The pair met in a cannibal chat room where Meiwes was searching for someone to eat and Brandes was looking to be consumed. Armin Meiwes was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 ½ years in prison. In April 2005, he was retried for murder and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
Director Martin Weisz (THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2) and writer T.S. Faull have taken the true story of Meiwes and Brandes and transformed it into easily the most disturbing film of the year. But, the terror comes not of the subject matter but of the humanity displayed on screen.
Keri Russell (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III) plays Katie, a grad student doing thesis work in Germany. Katie has come to the country to study the case of Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann, KING KONG) and Simon Grombeck (Thomas Hubner, ÆON FLUX). Hartwin was convicted years earlier for cannibalizing Grombeck after the pair met online. And, as Katie becomes more involved in the past of these two men, her obsession threatens to destroy her sanity.
The story is told in flashback through the eyes of Katie, as her research carries her further and further into the tale of these terrible figures. Because the film is seen through the point of view of a character that is wholly fascinated and sympathetic of the pair, the film looks and feels like a kind of twisted Shakespearean tragedy. The original working title of the production was BUTTERFLY: A GRIMM LOVE STORY. That, much more accurate description, almost totally encompasses the films thematic need to be understood and in some respects, I think it does a disservice to the content to have changed the name.
GRIMM LOVE is engrossing despite a conclusion that is laid out bare almost immediately at the outset of the film. This isn’t train-wreck-cinema, where you can’t stop looking despite yourself. Faull and Weisz have forced you to feel compassion for these two men. Two lost souls traveling on parallel paths that only needed the impersonality of the Internet to come together for the ultimate connection. Like Katie, the audience ultimately wants to see the inevitable outcome. And, much like her reaction after finally securing a copy of the infamous slaughter tape, we are emotionally destroyed when the pair, at last, commit the act. It is a powerful moment in the film and one that will set even the most hardened viewer at unrest.
That the filmmakers can have made such an impact with what would outwardly seem nothing more shocking that an exploitation film is a testament to their decision not to exploit the subjects on display. Each man is presented as a living breathing human being, each with his own set of very real insecurities. It is not difficult to project our own problems on the protagonists. In that sense, and with the intimate details of their lives revealed, it becomes very difficult not to identity with their situations. Although you and I are likely never going to be dining on our best friends, or total strangers anytime in the foreseeable future, Weisz and Faull make that concept seem much more accessible with this film—meaning, you can understand that in Hartwin and Grombeck’s minds, this was simply a natural course of progression.
It’s very clear that this is not a film for everybody. It’s very clear that this is probably not even a film that fringe cinephiles will embrace. Even the subject of the original case is not interested in the depiction—in March of 2006, Armin Meiwes won an injunction against the film halting its distribution in Germany. It is also crystal clear that this film is very different from the expectations that most will lay upon it. This is an important film—one that shines a microscope on our secret fears and our deepest anxieties. With an open mind this film could take you to an extraordinarily dark place where what would seem inconceivable in every moral sense of the world becomes not only reasonable but also understandable. And that concept alone makes GRIMM LOVE one of the most horrifying films ever committed to celluloid.