HomeHorror'Family Dinner' Delivers A Slow-Cooked Cinematic Feast

‘Family Dinner’ Delivers A Slow-Cooked Cinematic Feast [Tribeca 2022 Review]

Peter Hengl’s debut shocker is worth the price of its plate.

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Meat has the ability to be simultaneously joyous and horrifying. The pleasure of fat, flesh, and blood can be intoxicating, a luxury based deep in the primal bowels of our brains. However, the knowledge of the cruelty required for its procurement is so grotesque, many of us refuse to participate in the ritual of carnivorous consumption. Peter Hengl’s stunning debut Family Dinner finely balances the beauty and terrors of meat in a slow burning feature that’s cooked so tenderly, it falls right off the bone.

Family Dinner tells the story of Simi, an overweight German teenager who retreats to her aunt Claudia’s isolated country home in an attempt lose weight over Easter. Claudia is a famous nutritionist and author who has made a very good living helping people shed their pounds. But Claudia’s tactics are extreme, and Simi finds herself starved for days in order to “detox” her body before the real work can even begin. To make matters even more uncomfortable, Simi shares a bedroom with her angry cousin Filipp who never shies away from bullying her about her body. Sprinkle in a mysterious stepfather with difficult to decipher intentions, bring to a boil, and in under two hours you’ve got a deadly feast worth eating.

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One of the finest features of this title is the way it frames its food. Claudia concocts such gorgeous creations in the kitchen, they’ll have you desperate to visit the concessions. Alas, the horrible irony is that Simi is cruelly forbidden from eating any of it, and golden child Filipp gets as much as he desires. Simi quietly watches her cousin devour dishes so beautifully styled that the Food Network should be taking notes. Usually meat, sometimes pasta, the meals cooked by Claudia are works of cinematic artwork that serve their story magnificently.

The most important additive to this juicy entre is the chef herself; aunt Claudia is played with an uncanny ferociousness by the extraordinary Pia Hierzegger (The Ground Beneath My Feet). Claudia really does want to help her niece, and only sees the torture of starvation as a natural part of the process. Her passion for nutrition is so deeply ingrained, it becomes ritualistic, and maybe even a little bit cosmic in its dedication. Simi is played by Nina Katlein, an audience conduit who says very little but speaks volumes with her eyes. While Claudia is worth watching in every possible frame, it’s Simi who you should paying special attention to. Her refusal to give up or give in is part of what makes this platter of fear so rewarding to watch in its final act.

Speaking of, the finale of Family Dinner is where the horrors previously promised crest, allowing for expected brutality but in some unexpected ways. The frightfulness of these final moments are gut-wrenching in their execution; I only wish the terror went a bit further. The careful build would have allowed for Hengl to unleash much harder than he actually does. The writer/director purposefully commits to understatement. While it’s respectable, I would have preferred to cup my mouth in glee at even more carnage than what is ever displayed. And for a film produced by Ant Timpson (dir. Come to Daddy), I was surprised by this self control.

FAMILY DINNER Gabriel Krajanek 4 1024x576 - 'Family Dinner' Delivers A Slow-Cooked Cinematic Feast [Tribeca 2022 Review]


Slow and brooding but never boring, Family Dinner will capture your attention without breaking a sweat. While the macabre gear shift in the third act can be seen coming from a mile away, the horror here was well earned and had me gradually leaning more and more forward in my seat. Most importantly, Pia Hierzegger is mesmerising as the film’s master chef; a fiery-eyed antagonist who you won’t soon forget.

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