Review: American Burger

americanburgerposterA Swedish horror comedy shot entirely in English, set in the backwoods, and focusing on white, lean meat – that’s American Burger.

It is very unusual that Swedish films are shot in English, so the ambitions must be greater than usual with this first chapter of what is planned as a franchise. A sequel is already in development, but the question is, as always; do the abilities match the ambitions?

The title alone hints quite clearly at what the plot is, but if you don’t get it, this is not a film about cooking per se. A bus load of American teens are on an educational trip to a nondescript European country that looks suspicially like Sweden. They arrive at a hamburger factory where they are supposed to be shown around, but even before they enter the building, faceless butchers want their lean, white meat.

Almost every Scandinavian horror film tries to fit in to one of the many established sub-genres, and American Burger‘s niches are the “Americans who travel to Europe and is attacked by hostile locals” combined with “forest rednecks eat great lookig city folks”. You know what that means in terms of story; some will escape, but most get killed. The film delivers on those premises, but there’s a lot of running in the woods, finding remote roads that lead to nowhere and masked butchers popping up from behind every tree, so after a few minutes the story starts to repeat itself. There are of course side-tracks and twists and filler plots, but many of these are more like plot holes, loose ends, totally unrealistic or not exploited enough. The female Rambo, for example. Or the woman that had kept herself hidden in a cabin – would not somebody have alerted someone if a bus load of teens had disappeared a few weeks before? Even for a comedy some of the ideas in this film are just ridiculous. The ideas that aren’t are almost never funny or grotesque enough. The gag with the girl who is so unfortunate that she looses a garment every 5 minutes until only her top remains was a fun concept, and adds some necessary titillation, but even that was executed with predictability and an end result that will disappoint many viewers. Another sequence is three guys spying on a girl who is peeing among the trees. I get that nerds may starve for some female skin, but seriously!?!?!!

Many gore films are dark comedies, and splatter effects are often added as bizarre humour, but the light-hearted and self-referencing comedy of American Burger (such as virtually all characters having no names; they’re simply named the nerd, the jock, the cheerleader, etc) is supported by relatively tame gore. There are many kills, but they are quite similar and rather boring. There’s also a lack of wounds, severed limbs and what I really expected from a slaughterhouse; huge saws cutting teachers and teens, or at least a meat grinder spewing out fresh meat. A naked guy on a conveyor belt, that’s all. Not a drop of blood on him. The film is obviously trying to reach a broad audience, perhaps people not that used to serious horror films (which would be a very Swedish thing to do), but the film is not so family friendly that dismemberment could not be shown at least in the distance. The hooked meat we do see should not be scary to anyone who’s ever cooked a beef dinner before. The film will possibly be disgusting to horror newbies (not likely, but possibly) but do not expect another Tucker and Dale vs Evil, which is far superior in terms of both comedy and the red stuff.

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In the acting department, most of the cast do an OK job for this type of movie (low budget, indie producers, camp style, guerilla ambitions). Nearly all the actors are Swedish, so expect some heavy accents. There’s only one actor who stands out, and that is Fredrik Hiller, who plays the chef. He’s a cartoon character, really, complete with a Eastern European accent that hammers in the message that Europe in general is populated by serial killers and cannibals. Hiller seems to have fun in trying to be a live action muppet, but his script is weak and there is nothing in the movie that explains from where his character comes, why he cannot use Canadian meat and how he became so fond of Americans. Plus, are the children in the family house his own? I’d like to know, since that would explain a few things.

On the plus side I like it that every second of the film takes place in daylight (trying to make things more scary by preventing us from seeing it is a cheap technique), and the cinematography is decent. It is also commendable to produce a movie such as this in horror-hating Sweden, but unfortunately American Burger will only fuel the local sentiment about Swedish horror films not being worth the price of admission. Not even if you regard the movie as intentionally campy does it work beyond a few rare moments, and the film is not of the so-bad-its-good kind. The film simply isn’t funny enough to be a comedy nor scary or gory enough to be a worthy horror movie, which is strange considering the low but not very low budget of 11 million SEK (about one million euros), reportedly. From what I can see on the screen, most of the budget was spent on union regulated salaries for the cast and crew, in stead of gore, gags, stunts and effects. That would in itself be another very typical Swedish thing, just as the Swedish notion that horror should always be combined with comedy.

Rated 3 of 10.

Directed by Johan Bromander & Bonita Drake.

Sweden, 2014.

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