Fantasia ’14 exclusive: “CASE 39” director talks “CUT OFF,” from novel by “German Stephen King”
You never know who’s going to turn up at the Frontières International Co-Production Market at Montreal’s Fantasia festival; though he wasn’t pitching a project, Christian Alvart, the German director of CASE 39 and the Norman Reedus-starrer ANTIBODIES, was on hand, and gave Fango the scoop on his next grisly project.
Alvart (pictured above) has scripted and will helm CUT OFF (ABGESCHNITTEN), based on the novel by Sebastian Fitzek and Michael Tsokos. “Michael is actually the leading forensic pathologist in Germany, and has written a couple of true-crime best sellers; this was his first foray into fiction,” Alvart tells us. “And Sebastian Fitzek, you could say, is the Stephen King of Germany. The book [for which you can see a German-language trailer below] is about a forensic pathologist called in for an autopsy of a very gruesome body, and he finds a little capsule in its head and opens it, and under a microscope, he recognizes his daughter’s phone number. Someone is sending him messages, and he doesn’t know who’s manipulating the bodies, so it’s kind of a game that someone or some people are playing with him, where he has to find the next corpse and the next clue to save his daughter’s life.
“Fate has it that the next body appears on an island in the North Sea, and he can’t get there because it’s cut off by a storm,” Alvart continues. “A young woman who’s a comic artist has found the body, and is the only one he can talk to by phone. So he tries to convince her to do the autopsy—like a remote-controlled operation. What I love about the concept is that while he’s trying to get to the island, he’s constantly on the phone with that girl, and she is like the audience; she doesn’t have the first clue about autopsies or cadavers or anything, so while she’s trying to steel her nerves, she does so alongside the audience, and we get to know more and more about forensic pathology in a way that I believe has never been done on a big screen before.”
Alvart has helmed a number of feature and TV crime thrillers in Germany since his last English-language movie, 2009’s PANDORUM, and will also shoot CUT OFF in his mother tongue. “It’s going to be like ANTIBODIES in the sense that yes, we hope to sell it internationally, but it will be done in German.” And after working with other writers on those previous projects, the director chose to script CUT OFF himself. “It’s very rare that I have the time to do that these days, but this is so close to ANTIBODIES—and when we shoot it, it’s going to be the 10-year anniversary of that film—I felt like the two movies are siblings. Since I wrote ANTIBODIES myself, I just had to do the same with this one, so I carved out the time.”
Already cast in the lead is Moritz Bleibtreu, star of the international successes RUN LOLA RUN and DAS EXPERIMENT whose Hollywood credits include MUNICH, SPEED RACER and WORLD WAR Z. Appearing in a villainous role will be Lars Eidinger, who previously acted for Alvart in the TV movie BOROWSKI AND THE SILENT GUEST and starred in the Roland Emmerich-produced HELL. The director hopes to bring a number of past behind-the-scenes collaborators on board as well, and notes, “A huge part of the budget is going to be for bodies; we’ll build all these autopsied cadavers in different stages, to show what that really looks like. I’ve already been at 20-plus autopsies to prepare for the film; Michael Tsokos invited me and gave me full access. So there will be a couple of things in the film that will be very different from what you usually see on television or in movies.”
For all the gruesomeness, CUT OFF will have a blackly comedic side as well. “Sebastian and Michael met on a TV show, and collaborated after that because they have the same dark sense of humor,” Alvart says. “That’s also something I liked about the book—that it’s really funny. You can imagine the guy on the phone convincing this young girl to cut open a body, and there’s so much black humor they mined from that that I really enjoyed.”
Alvart is also one of the producers on CUT OFF, which will give him the creative control and freedom he didn’t always find on his U.S. studio pictures. “I don’t think my experiences were unique, in the sense that a lot of people have had them, but I had a great time with both [CASE 39 and PANDORUM]—meeting the producers, coming up with ideas of how to do the films, sharing a vision. And while shooting them, I was still very happy. But when we got into the editing process, suddenly going after the best possible creative solution was seen by some of the people I worked with as being difficult, just because I was fighting for the best possible cut. I don’t think I’m difficult, but they did, so it became very stressful. I still love those two movies, like you love all your children, but they have stuff in them that I’m not 100 percent behind. There are things in both that I never would have done myself if I’d had the final say.”