The new German Netflix horror film “The Privilege” gets off to a promising start, albeit with a bit too fast editing for my liking. In a harrowing sequence, 11-year-old Finn is kidnapped from their house by his seemingly insane older sister Anna, who finally commits suicide in a harrowing sequence. It ultimately becomes the cause of psychological trauma for Finn, who is advised to take anti-anxiety meds as a grown-up. Soon, he starts seeing visions and hearing noises, realizing that what he believed to be the hallucinations of his mind could be something far more supernatural.
The premise of “The Privilege,” at least in the first hour, is pretty derivative of most teen horror movies. Finn has a crush on Samira. His best friend also has a crush on Samira, but is far more confident than he is. In that regard, the blurb of the movie, stating that teens from a private school get caught up in a nightmarish situation, is one of the numerous subplots that the film tries to deal with. It forms the core criticism of the movie, from which every kind of criticism starts to spread.
“The Privilege” also wears its inspirations on its sleeves. It is, however, in such a hurry to mix all of its inspirations to create a unique mixture that it ends up becoming its biggest drawback. About 40 minutes into the movie, the story pivots into a completely different tangent from the supernatural aspect and into the realm of science fiction. From super drugs containing fungi to parasitic organisms taking over, all of these are wildly different ideas that do not come together in any consistent shape. It also doesn’t help that the characters aren’t written very well-they are unable to rise above their basic archetypal structure. When the investigative duo of Finn and Lena becomes a trio with Samira joining the team, you don’t buy it. There is no plausible reason for Samira to become a part of this beyond the simple reason that she was in the right place at the right time. Maybe plausibility needs to be completely scratched from the account.
However, if that was the case, the movie shouldn’t have taken itself so seriously. That is the biggest shame for “The Privilege”. It is shot well; the cinematography and the gory deaths produce some gorgeous scenes. The second positive, and a crying shame, is the cast. If you’re a fan of “DARK,” one of Netflix’s breakout German properties, you’ll recognize the protagonist as well as his main supporting cast. The cast gives it their all—they are fully committed to the role, delivering performances for characters of paper-thin depth and dimensionality.
But the movie, even when it is delving into its supernatural aspect, loses me completely because it simply isn’t scary enough. It doesn’t allow the creepiness or the horror to settle in and breathe before moving on to the subsequent plot thread. On the other hand, when the movie pivots towards a science-fiction bent, it starts to become mildly interesting. By that point, the investigative aspects take over, and you are left to wonder how it all connects. However, the resolution and thus the reasoning too aren’t well explained until the climax. However, it is too late at this point. For a movie running one hundred and seven minutes long, the film feels much longer, but the final 10 minutes feel far more rushed to give the climax a resounding impact. Events occur in rapid succession, from the escape of a burning building to driving a car into an accident again; it all serves to give you an adrenaline rush, but an adrenaline rush without a steady build-up feels like empty calories.
Explanations of the plot and the motivations behind these nefarious schemes are given almost sparingly, perhaps because the makers are planning to continue plot threads to start a franchise. It’s almost Netflix’s bread and butter at this point, but that still didn’t stop me from letting off an audible groan at the forced cliffhanger at the end of this movie. If I take a couple of minutes to think about it, the cliffhanger ending was almost inevitable. Yet, I was holding on to the hope because there is a basic question that needs to be answered – is there room for a complete single story without spinning off into a franchise? Horror, as a genre, is mutable enough that there are movies that can exist without explanations – the vibe, tone, and atmosphere are enough to elicit a feeling from the audience. When the writers are deliberating, inserting differing ideas and plot threads, explanations for those are, kind of, to be expected at the end of the first movie, without spinning off into a second movie, which might not happen. It’s a shame because the cast is so good and the movie is actually shot well and thus looks good. There are moments of cool visual effects as well, cheap though they may look, and if it committed itself to a single idea but built itself up on that idea, this movie might work. Or, since it already had too many ideas inside it as constituents, it needed to be a miniseries. Because a few more hours could have fleshed out the characters, allowing those ideas to marinate and giving a far more coherent shape. As it stands, what we have is simply a movie of wasted potential, confusing genre tonality, body horror, social commentary, and supernatural cheap thrills, but delivering on neither of these promises and falling with a resounding thud.