Photograph: Berlin Film Festival
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3 out of 5 stars

Euphoria star Hunter Schafer faces down something terrible in the woods in this kooky, spooky intrigue


Time Out says

Horror doesn’t have to make sense. Some of the freakiest midnight movies are absolutely batshit, leaving you scratching your head at the nightmare visions that burn into the back of your brain.

So it is with German filmmaker Tilman Singer’s deliriously unbound-from-logic romp, Cuckoo. Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer stars as angsty teen Gretchen, who is dragged on holiday unwillingly by her dad (Marton Csokas) and not-so-wicked stepmom, Beth (Jessica Henwick) to the sort of tree-shrouded alpine resort that’s an instant red flag in spooky movies. Especially if run by a lascivious type like Mr König, embodied with menacing glee by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, affecting a vaguely Germanic accent and wandering hands. 

He offers Gretchen a job at this Overlook-alike hotel, which she gladly latches onto to ignore her mute and super-cute stepsister Alma (Mila Lieu). She’s grieving the death of her mother, leaving pained messages on her not-yet-deactivated voicemail just to hear her voice. Finding solace working on the hotel’s reception desk, she wonders why her fellow front desker, Trixie, seems unbothered that the joint closes early, employees aren’t allowed outside after dark and guests often appear completely discombobulated, puking up in the foyer.

Sure to be a cult classic, it’s quite literally cuckoo – often gloriously so

But the weirdness inside is nothing to what’s going on out there. Why are the doors of the local hospital barred? And what’s lurking malevolently in the wild woods? Why does a distinctly unnerving woman clad in a white plastic mac and sporting Jackie O-style sunglasses, attack Gretchen and the French traveller, Ed (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), she hooks up with? 

Tantalisingly weird, Tilman’s willful movie hints at a disturbing new branch of human evolution around which a cult has sprung up. The ‘monster’ attacks via a surreal mix of siren call, with a nails-on-chalkboard screech that makes women’s throat glands throb, and an unexplained ability to trap its prey in a strangely localised time loop. 

It’s a lot. Cuckoo throws everything at the wall and not everything sticks, but if you’re willing to surrender to its demented pleasures, there’s fun to be had amongst the baby-snatching beasts and gun-toting misogynists. Not to mention some general bad vibes that are underpinned by a bone-shuddering score by Simon Waskow, who worked on Tilman’s previous film Luz, and some outstanding sound design. 

Sure to be a cult classic, it’s quite literally cuckoo – and often gloriously so.

Cuckoo premiered at the Berlin Film Festival

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