Serial killing is one of the most disturbing and brutal of real-world crimes, so what is the value of audiences putting themselves through witnessing it at the cinema?
Hollywood thrillers have mostly been guilty of playing with the figure of the serial killer and of problematic pathologising. In the 90s, following the success of 'The Silence of the Lambs', the serial killer suddenly became Hollywood's favourite movie villain. An intricate and sophisticated motive began to fill the void of the serial killer's inexplicable cruelty, transforming the criminal into a mastermind always one step ahead of the police. At a loss for clues or any reasonable motive, the detectives in these movies have no choice but to follow the killer's warped logic.
Recently, we've seen 'My Friend Dahmer' about a cannibal's high school years, and 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile', with Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, the killer with the sociopathic smize. Both murderers are portrayed by former Disney kids.
From director Fatih Akin ('In The Fade'), 'The Golden Glove' is an adaptation of Heinz Strunk's eponymous novel and tells the story of a deformed alcoholic German serial killer, Fritz Honka (Jonas Dassler, 'Never Look Away'), who murdered four women between 1970 and 1975 and hid the body parts in his apartment. The Golden Glove is the name of the pub in the red-light district of Hamburg where Honka met his victims.
'THE GOLDEN GLOVE' TRAILER
Four years pass between the beginning and end of the film - which, save for a brief interlude where Honda gets a job as a night watchman at a sterile office building, is a cycle of heavy drinking, savage sexual assaults with a variety of household objects, and rage-fuelled murder.
Jonas Dassler, his handsome face unrecognisable under prosthetics, gives very little nuance in his portrayal of Honka. He plays the man as a repulsive goblin who drools, snorts and squints as he leers after the women he attracts with cheap booze and bratwurst. Everything in his life, from the rooms to the furniture to the people, seems to be covered in a layer of grease, sweat and filth to reflect his own moral degradation.
The grisly scenes of sexual violence, abuse and murder are relentless. As Honka finishes up with one victim, he repeats his tried and tested lure again with the same fatal results. The continuous visual depravities are repeated without much dialogue, context or psychological analysis aside from Honka's volcanic anger towards his erectile dysfunction. His victims are grotesque caricatures of alcoholics, sex workers and vagrants.
It seems that the sole objective of 'The Golden Glove' is to counter the stereotype of the romanticised serial killer that has become part of the zeitgeist in recent years. There is undoubtedly a glorification of the Machiavellian psychopath that has been exploited by television, films and podcasts since it became mainstream with stuff like 'Se7en'. The sleaziness and repulsive qualities of 'The Golden Glove' are there to remind audiences that, hey, maybe a sadistic murderer who enjoys blowjobs from haggard, toothless prostitutes (because he's afraid of having his penis bitten off) is not worth being deified.
The sleaziness and repulsive qualities of 'The Golden Glove' are there to remind audiences that, hey, maybe a sadistic murderer who enjoys blowjobs from haggard, toothless prostitutes is not worth being deified.
Not that you'll be pondering this much while watching 'The Golden Glove'. Mainly, you'll just feel dirty - the settings, the events that occur, and the way that everything plays out will fill you with the urge to bleach your eyeballs. It's also hard to imagine that people who think of Ted Bundy as a sex symbol are going to see - or have their perspective changed by - a deliberately disgusting movie directed by a German nihilist. If people who idolise serial killers seek this movie out, I suspect it'll be for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps the worst thing about this film is that Akin isn't even exploring anything thematically fresh here. Lars von Trier's 'The House That Jack Built' played with the idea of the killer as surrogate for the director and the audience being complicit. Many socially conscious films have aimed for a sobering portrayal of the serial killer: not as a man with a plan, but simply as a man who kills. 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' portrayed the titular killer as an uncaring beast, the camera staying close to the murderer throughout, following him both as he commits his crimes and as he leads the rest of his otherwise mundane life. 'Snowtown' and 'Hounds of Love' also trod a similarly grim, based-on-fact path. These films tease us with our proximity to the killer, only to show that closeness reveals nothing. No matter how well we might know the character, we will never see anything in his life that explains or justifies murderous tendencies.
I watch movies for a lot of different sensations, but "visceral nausea" is not on the list. 'The Golden Glove' is an admittedly well-shot film (despite a grotesque aesthetic) that might be of some value to transgression hungry viewers. I'm not that edgy - to me, this film is nothing more than a solipsistic group analysis session in which the audience is held hostage, believing there's a point to it all.