The Summer House is one of those “look how f*cked up the rich are so that the rest of us can feel better about not having any money because at least we’re good people” bones we get thrown so often at the cinema these days. This time around, behind the curtain of the “seemingly put-together” family of three stands a father who, while extraordinarily resourceful in business and prudent in financial planning, conceals a nasty predilection for young boys. Oh yeah, it’s a pedophile movie as well.
And Curtis Burz‘s film is disturbingly frank about its subject matter, which, again, is pedophilia. The low-key, near-documentary approach to the gradual unraveling of the not-so-perfect-after-all husband’s façade may encourage some to draw Michael Haneke comparisons, but perhaps that’s just me because of the film’s “in German with English subtitles” nature.
We meet Markus (the pedophile) through his panicked friend and business partner Christopher, whose understanding of his own money problems is so poor that he can barely articulate what his own accountant has told him. Markus takes a moment to look down and brood (not the last time someone will perform this action in the film), looks up (with about as much optimism as we ever see Germans exhibit on the big screen), and tells Markus not to worry, that he’s going to send the wolf to fix things or something.
Markus has an almost comically unhappy marriage with his wife Christine. The two have a daughter, Elisabeth. The three do a lot of brooding, both together and separately. There’s a wacky scene in which Christopher and his sex kitten wife try to get some group action going on with Markus and Christine (possibly to thank Markus for his financial help), but Markus basically chills at the table brooding while his buddy enjoys both of their wives.
We soon learn one reason for Markus’s lack of sexual interest in the heterorgy when we see him with his male lover. And then we learn another reason when he starts to move in on Christopher’s son Johannes. (Yes, this film follows in the unfortunate tradition in film of conflating homosexuality with pedophilia.) We watch as Markus neglects his extremely depressed wife and his lonely daughter so he can hang and cop feels with little Johannes at his titular summer house. Nothing resembling a romantic relationship develops, but a familiarity between the two grows. We don’t see much, and it remains unclear just how far Markus took things with the child, which is what makes the film’s culminating events that much more thought-provoking.
What sets The Summer House apart from some of the other pedo-sploitation flicks you have seen is that here the usually helpless children seem to have all the power, or at least more than do the parents. The adults are powerless to both their surroundings and their own impulses. Elisabeth and Johannes are the only ones who seem to know that to take action is an option of theirs. Both children act quickly, decisively, viciously, and mercilessly. And so the film must culminate in their showdown. Even the predator Markus seems more victimized by his sexual deviancy than does his prey. If anything, the 12-year old Johannes sees Markus’s behavior as an opportunity for personal gain, which the child ruthlessly seizes. He exhibits no psychological damage and up until the showdown with the surprise hero Elisabeth, it seems he will get out of what should be a horrific experience unfazed.Elisabeth and Johannes posses an eerie sort of meta-awareness of the world. Neither one for one moment seems confused about the events that surround and happen to them. They are merely let down by their parents’ failure to be able (or willing) to do anything about…..well, anything. Johannes and his friend barely look up from their phones when discussing a relationship with an older man and the subsequent plot to blackmail the family. (Is it technology that has enabled the new super-race of youth who in this era alone have that magic combination of knowledge and brazen ability to act?)
Elisabeth is told multiple times that she will be beautiful, and she couldn’t be less impressed or excited. “I know,” she lazily responds each time. She does not look forward to growing up into one of the lifeless automatons who surround her.
CONCLUSION: The Summer House may have too dull a tone for some, and probably will bore most, but those willing to stick with it until the end may find that we shouldn’t worry so much about our children. It’s us we should be freaked out about.