Human Factors (2021) review
Ronny Trocker’s Human Factors is a convoluted but enjoyable Euro-thriller.
The closest comparison to Human Factors, the latest by Italian director Ronny Trocker, would be something like the original Funny Games or Haneke’s less abrasive Cache. Human Factors isn’t a nihilistic film, nor an examination of our relationship to movies and their unpleasant content, but there’s an unmistakably ominous air pervading the home-invasion horror.
Jan (Mark Waschke) and his wife, Laura (Karen Margrethe Gotfredson) own a lucrative modern advertising agency in Europe. They’ve been approached by a political party to run their campaign, and against Laura’s wishes and without even consulting her, Jan agrees to manage it for them.
Staying at their secluded summer home, Laura is convinced she saw intruders escaping out the back door, an incident that seems to follow on from their office being bombarded by paintballs. The off-screen presence of the intruders is uncomfortably tense, and the story begins to recount the day from the different perspectives of everyone in the house, including their young son Lucas (Spencer Bogaert) and tearaway daughter Emma (Jule Hermann).
There’s a real interiority to the characters, and the unconventional structure allows a deeper sense of intimacy
While formally interesting (and allows for a brilliantly funny reveal in the final act), the nonlinearity starts to feel a little like a hindrance, as if Trocker is taking the longest route to tell the story. While it’s never clear when or how far the story has rewinded, it is at least never disorientating. You don’t lose track of what’s happening, even if you’ll sometimes assume what you’re seeing is post-break in only to realise you’re in a flashback.
Performances across the board are fantastic, from the young Bogaert to the long-suffering Laura played by Gotfredson. There’s a real interiority to the characters, and the unconventional structure allows a deeper sense of intimacy with the characters than what’s typically afforded by 102-minute thrillers.
The structure is what sets it apart. Without it, it would be a pretty generic thriller with some good performances. It keeps you absorbed in the drama, even if seeing some of the same moments for the fourth time dullens some of the tension.