There’s a moment in Tartarus – the first moment, in a sense, as it follows a brief outer space sequence and the opening credits – when it clearly defines it’s loyalties. We see a closeup shot of the burning embers of a small fire, and about half the face of the man lying on the ground staring at it. It’s borrowed almost exactly from a shot in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and it prepares us for the film that follows, a metaphysical rather than visceral horror film, where the real horror is not the creatures that have landed in this desolate wilderness, but the terrible things people can chose to do when it seems like the only way to protect themselves and their families.
But we’re not talking about mere Saw-style gross-out self-mutilation, but something more frightening, how they accept terrible evil as part of the day-to-day reality of their lives.
It is decidedly disturbing.
I suppose I should note for a certain class of horror buff that the grue on display is limited, and that the creatures themselves remain mostly in shadow. But this is one of the better alien monsters on a killing spree movies I’ve seen lately, precisely because that isn’t quite what’s going on here.
Instead, it deals nicely with the horrors of war and how heavily it weighs on two soldiers returning home to Austria in 1813 – and how those experiences help them to first rationalize their misdeeds – and then, ultimately, to stand up to the real enemy.
And yes, it’s in German, with subtitles. I know that’s frightening.
But believe me, it’s worth the effort.