Serial killing is one of the most disturbing and brutal of real-world crimes. It makes you wonder why audiences put themselves through witnessing it at the cinema.
Hollywood thrillers have mostly been guilty 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. A sophisticated motive began to fill the void of the serial killer's unfathomable cruelty, transforming the criminal into a mastermind always one step ahead of the police. At a loss for clues, 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 alluring eyes. 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 stashed the body parts around his apartment. The Golden Glove is the name of the pub in the red-light district of Hamburg where Honka latched upon his victims.
Four years pass over the course of the film - which, save for a short section 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 while baiting women with beer and bratwurst. Everything in his life, from the rooms to the furniture to the people, seems to be covered in a layer of grease to reflect his own moral degradation.
The grisly scenes are relentless. As Honka finishes up with one victim, he repeats his tried and tested lure again with the same fatal results. The depravities are repeated without much dialogue or deeper analysis aside from Honka's fury towards his erectile dysfunction. His victims are sad mix of 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. The psychopathic mastermind trope has been exploited by television, films and podcasts since it became mainstream with stuff like 'Se7en'. The 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 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 grubby - the settings, the events that occur, and the way that everything plays out will make you want to bleach your eyeballs. It's also hard to imagine that people who think of Ted Bundy as a sex symbol are going to have their romantic notions quashed by a disgusting movie directed by a German nihilist. If people who idolise serial killers seek this movie out, I think it'll be for titillation rather than education.
Perhaps the worst thing about this film is that Akin isn't even exploring thematically fresh territory 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 unvarnished portrayal of the serial killer as a man who simply kills. 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' portrayed the titular killer as an uncaring organism of destruction, the camera following the murderer throughout, observing him both as he commits his crimes and continues his otherwise mundane life. 'Snowtown' and 'Hounds of Love' also trod grim, based-on-fact paths. These films tease us with our proximity to the killer, only to show that intimacy doesn't lead to insight. No matter how well we might know the character, we will never see anything in his life that explains murderous tendencies.
I watch movies for a lot of different sensations, but "instinctual revulsion" is not on the list. 'The Golden Glove' is an admittedly well-shot film (despite a deliberately unpleasant 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 self-important group analysis session, but lacking in any psychoanalytic insights and ultimately quite pointless.