Family is not always easy. Relationships are not always easy. Brothers Elias and Gabriel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s David Dencik and Hannibal‘s Mads Mikkelsen) are not close with each other nor their elderly father, and their personal lives are fraught with a rivalry, Gabriel blaming Elias for stealing his girlfriends, Elias claiming they are unable to resist him and that they can sense that Gabriel is sterile.
Elias, overbearing and bullish, is trying to kill two birds with one stone, dating a wheelchair-bound psychotherapist and demanding she listen to his problems without comment (“You’re a terrible therapist; do people in wheelchairs always interrupt?”), figuring that paying for a meal is cheaper than paying for a professional session and that she will comply as nobody else would ask her out in the first place. Overly excitable around women who inevitably rebuff him, Elias resorts to taking matters into his own hands at every opportunity.
When their father dies, Elias and Gabriel are obliged to meet to view the video their father left for them which reveals they are not in fact brothers but adopted half brothers, born to different mothers, their real father the geneticist Evelio Thanatos, an expert on stem cell research who was ostracised by the scientific community decades before.
Tracing Thanatos to the island of Ork, they hope to meet him and find out more about their family; what they find is a dilapidated sanitarium occupied by three further half brothers, Gregor, Franz and Josef (Child 44‘s Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Borgen‘s Søren Malling and The Bridge‘s Nicolas Bro) who at first refuse them entry, then concede, but still bar them access to the mysterious Thanatos.
From the clinical and unsympathetic opening scenes in the modern hospital, the arrival at the remote island signals a descent into surreal slapstick farce as the five brothers bicker and compete, each exhibiting their own particular peculiarities of character, but with Elias assimilating into the household and adopting the attitudes of his new brothers far too rapidly for Gabriel’s liking, his anti-intellectual attitude (“Darwin, that moron, what a loser!”) matching his new found siblings who would rather read about cheese than philosophy.
A grotesque comedy of bad manners and bestiality written and directed by the prolific Anders Thomas Jensen, whose diverse writing credits include Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Red Road, The Duchess and Antichrist, Men & Chicken was a surprising inclusion on Denmark’s shortlist for the Academy Awards; though ultimately it was not submitted it has enjoyed healthy success on the film festival circuit prior to this wide release.
Moving from merely uncomfortable to occasionally hilariously awkward as Gabriel and Elias are told that in fact each of the five brothers had a different mother all of whom died during childbirth, earning the elusive Thanatos the nickname “the sausage of death” among the locals, the quirky narrative is slight but a welcome diversion from the more typical dread of Scandi noir.
There are reminders of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes in the dysfunctional family dynamic which somehow functions within the limitations of its own ramshackle microcosm, but the most unavoidable comparison is with The Post-Modern Prometheus, an Emmy winning case investigated by the intrepid agents of The X-Files, right down to the playful carnivalesque soundtrack of Frans Bak and Jeppe Kaas.