‘The Golden Glove’ Review: One of the Most Disturbing Serial Killer Movies In Decades [Fantastic Fest 2019]

the golden glove review

Fatih Akin‘s The Golden Glove is the rawest, most real, and most brutal serial killer movie since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Unflinchingly gruesome, and covered in a thick layer of grime, Akin’s film tells the true story of Fritz Honka, a murderer who stalked 1970s Hamburg, preying on the weak, the old, and the destitute. Honka was able to easily navigate amongst the downtrodden because he was one of them himself – a physically unappealing loner with a serious drinking problem. The Golden Glove has seemingly taken Honka’s inner and outer ugliness and projected it large on the screen. Buried under gruesome makeup, actor Jonas Dassler transforms into Honka, creating one of cinema’s most repulsive-yet-fascinating characters.

The Golden Glove doesn’t hide its intentions.  The opening moments are set in the tiny, filthy attic flat that Fritz Honk occupies. Akin’s camera hangs back, watching Honka climb onto a grungy bed where rests the corpse of a woman. Honka frantically attempts to stuff the dead body into a trash bag, and the scene is so raw and real that we can literally see the sweat begin to form on the back of Honka’s shirt as he exerts himself. After this matter of body disposal fails to go as planned, Honka takes another approach: dismemberment. He disposes of most of the body parts – but hangs on to a few others, stuffing them away in a crawl space.

From here, The Golden Glove tracks Honka’s gruesome life. He dips in and out of one miserable location to the next, most often frequenting the dive bar the Golden Glove, where every patron is a withered, weathered lost soul. People drink, and drink, and drink. These are not casual, social drinkers. These are alcoholics who drink themselves into oblivion, to the point where they pass out in the streets and show no sign of getting up.

It’s within the Golden Glove that Honka picks up the elderly Gerda (Margarete Tiesel), bringing her home first for sex, and then turning her into an abused housekeeper – someone he orders around to cook and clean when he’s not physically brutalizing her. The treatment Gerda suffers at Honka’s hands is cruel and repulsive, but it’s nothing compared to the fates that befall several other women Honka happens upon in the bar. Akin refuses to flinch away from the violence, often filming things in wide, long takes where characters are pummeled, strangled, and worse. Make no mistake: this is a loathsome movie. And the loathsomeness is the point. Akin is taking us entirely into Honka’s abominable world – we are seeing the world through his eyes, and the world is hideous.

There will be some that argue The Golden Glove has zero redeeming value, and that it perhaps should not exist at all. But as a portrait of a truly dangerous individual, it’s fascinating. This is less a film and more of a field study of a wild animal. We are forced to remain at a distance as this creature stalks its prey. All of this lives and dies on Jonas Dassler’s performance, which is fully believable. The heavy make-up used to bend his nose and enlarge his eyes runs the risk of parody, but the hunched, lurching way Dassler moves, like some sort of wounded animal, finds some level of humanity lurking within.

A lengthy middle period of the film finds Honka go sober and make a genuine attempt to clean up his act, and stop his wicked ways. But Honka is like the scorpion from the story of the scorpion and the frog – he cannot change his true nature, even though it means he’s dooming himself in the process. We never pity Honka, or sympathize with him. But we can easily believe in how real he is. Yes, he commits monstrous acts, but in the end, he’s still human. He’s a living, breathing man who really existed. The question The Golden Glove seems to be asking is: why? Why did this man exist? What made him what he is?

Was it Honka’s terrible background – growing up in poverty, the son of a man who was in a concentration camp? Was it his alcoholism? Or was he simply evil incarnate? The type of lurching, slumping, repulsive evil that exists on the fringes of what we think of as polite society? The Golden Glove is one of the most challenging movies you’ll ever see, and if it leaves you feeling unclean and outraged, then it’s done its job. Fritz Honka wasn’t a slasher from a B-grade horror movie. He wasn’t a sophisticated evil genius like Hannibal Lecter. He was real. Talk about terrifying.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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