The second film of this year’s Midnight Madness programme was Marvin Kren’s highly anticipated The Station. In a landmark year for the programme – Midnight Madness is celebrating its 25th anniversary – Kren’s film broke another boundary being the first Austrian film to grace its roster. Although there is scarcely a more entertaining crowd of filmgoers, audience reactions serve as the ultimate barometer for success: the louder the better. Thanks to the Krens – Marvin and his scene-stealing mother, Brigitte – the premiere was literally a roaring success.

TIFF Midnight Madness Review: The Station

TIFF Midnight Madness Review: The Station

The film is set in a weather research station in the German Alps, where a small team of scientists and their technician are studying the effects of rapid climate change on the environment. While preparing for a visit from an important government minister and the press, they stumble upon a strange red liquid seeping out of the melting glaciers. Upon closer analysis, it seems the blood-like substance – an actual phenomenon normally consisting of various forms of algae – consists of ancient microorganisms that serve as a catalyst for genetic mutation. Bonding the genetic material of the host and whatever DNA it ingests, it forms a hybrid specimen. The possibilities are endless, and lethal. The team must fight to survive and avoid contamination.

From the beginning, the film feels like an homage to The Thing. Tonally similar, with a canine catalyst, and stunning landscapes, it sets expectations very high. Ultimately it delivers on action, violence, and entertainment. Kren’s creatures are horrific and had me, and others, jumping in their seats. These Darwinian nightmares are only shown in as much detail as is absolutely necessary, leaving much of their anatomy and impact to the imagination. From there, the terror builds.

In a refreshing turn, Kren and writer Benjamin Hessler have created mostly intelligent characters that are fuelled by survival instinct rather than fear and stupidity. Scientists Birte (Hille Beseler) and Falk (Peter Knaack) are portrayed as overly ambitious, defying common sense and hoping to come out unscathed. Technician Janek (Gerhard Liebmann) and Alpinist Tanja (Edita Malovcic) struggle with a tumultuous past, and react with pragmatism in the most lethal of situations.

Liebmann offers a powerful performance, both as ass-kicking hero and a man with a broken heart. Avoiding the melodramatic, he adds an emotional level to the film that doesn’t detract from the deadly task at hand.

Brigitte Kren as Minister Bodicek provides the film with an intelligent, pragmatic and fierce heroine. With some of the best lines in the film, and easily some of the best action sequences, she steals every scene she’s in. The film is worth watching if only for her performance.

The film’s weakest points come with the introduction of a seemingly random character. A young girl running through the Alps stumbles upon our party of scientists after being attacked by a hybrid falcon/beetle/fox creature. Her origins are never explained, which added a great deal of confusion, and muddled the rest of the action. Evidently, as Kren later explained during a Question and Answer session following the film, many of her scenes had to be cut. Explaining the character for the last question of the evening, Kren and Hessler added that there was a second group on the mountain shooting a music video. A group of furries, they were attacked by the frightening hybrid creatures mid-shoot, and this girl was the sole escapee.

Unfortunately, no origin scenes were kept, and so her presence in the film feels disjointed. The film suffers as a result. If re-edits are at all possible, it would do the film a great service to include even a brief scene explaining her presence. One can hope!

In spite of such setbacks, The Station (affectionately dubbed Blood Glacier by Midnight Madness devotees) delivers on all fronts. Well paced, with engaging performances across the board, terrifying tension, and some seriously sick creatures, it’s a great film worth seeing.

Two more performances remain on Sunday, September 8th at 2:15pm, and Friday, September 13th at 9:15pm. Tickets are still available, so be sure to check it out!

Originally published on Row Three on September 7th, 2013