Storytellers have long had a fascination with the end of the world. In particular, there’s an obsession with what it means as a new beginning for mankind. Here at the 2018 New York Film Festival, a movie is tackling this material. It’s “In My Room,” a German film that takes its time unfurling the story. It’s a story worth telling, though on a personal level, I really wish the movie didn’t have the mean streak towards animals that it had. You could remove all of that and arguably have a better film. You certainly wouldn’t have a worse one. That’s not factored into the review and grade on the whole, but in all fairness, it did put me off to a large degree for a solid bit of the running time.
“In My Room” has all the trappings of a generic last man in the world movie. Luckily, despite some missteps, it manages to carve out its own path. Much like the recently released “I Think We’re Alone Now,” it focuses on a protagonist who actually thrives when people disappear. There’s also similarly an aspect of the story focusing on what happens when another person appears. They diverge from there, but it’s an interesting parallel to take note of.
The film starts out with a terrifically amusing sequence. Armin (Hans Löw) wouldn’t be out of place in an early Judd Apatow movie. A tall man-child, he’s a cameraman who forgets to turn the camera on during an important job. He goes out to clubs and brings home younger women to his cramped apartment, but they see him for the schlub that he is. Frankly, he has very little going for him. This first act sets up his lot in life, which is about to change.
When Armin goes home to visit his father (Michael Wittenborn) and dying grandmother (Ruth Bickelhaupt), he expects a depressing trip. He doesn’t expect to wake up one morning to everyone else on the planet seemingly gone. Animals and the deceased are there, but no one else alive. At first, he’s overwhelmed and unwilling to deal with his situation. Slowly, but surely, he starts to get the hang of it, even seemingly coming to love the simple new life. Then, someone else arrives.
Kirsi (Elena Radonicich) has somehow also survived. Initially, they’re suspicious of each other. Soon, however, they become lovers and partners in the world. This section is where the heart of the picture comes into play. It’s also where “In My Room” manages to differentiate itself from other films of this ilk. As the bond between the characters grows, so too does your bond with them.
Essentially a two hander, “In My Room” lives and dies on the acting by Hans Löw and Elena Radonicich. Löw is our protagonist, though arguably Radonicich is the more interesting character. He takes a traditional man-child to mature adult path. She has more color. She gets the other big laugh in the movie when they find a video store and she goes hunting for Ben Affleck and Ryan Gosling flicks. Löw and Radonicich build a nice chemistry that sustains the movie. The aforementioned Ruth Bickelhaupt and Michael Wittenborn have small parts too, but they don’t leave an impact.
Filmmaker Ulrich Köhler crafts some nice visuals, though his writing and directing are boosted by the two lead performances. Then, there’s the animal stuff. In particular, the fate of one dog is just so egregiously mean and unnecessary, it’s truly off-putting. Köhler easily could have not had this moment happen and “In My Room” would have been no different. It’s a problematic choice that may bug you throughout. Through in some slack editing and Köhler potentially kept this from being as strong as it could have been.
If you enjoy character studies, “In My Room” is a solid one with something to offer. Animal choices aside, the take on this material is different enough to warrant a recommendation. The move from Apatow style loser to ultimately a rather moving place is deftly handled. Once it moves beyond NYFF, this is worth seeking out, provided you can stomach the dog stuff. If so, give it a look.