Sundance 2017 Review: ‘Axolotl Overkill’ Trumps Hedonism Over Maturity
Transformation Could Do ‘Axolotl Overkill’ Some Good
From its pretentious title alone, we already get this vibe that Axolotl Overkill is a film that unfortunately ends up spinning its wheels. The titular axolotl is in fact a Mexican salamander that reaches adulthood with the transformation during adolescence. In a sense, it’s a heavy-handed metaphor for not growing up.
Based on the 2010 novel Axolotl Roadkill, the film follows sixteen-year old Mifti (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), who doesn’t exactly come from the best of circumstances. Her mother recently passed away. Her father’s already moved onto another romantic interest. Even her siblings appear detached, spoiled and entitled. That being said, there’s no real solid foundation to her adolescent years. At school, her rebellion and blatant disrespect continues as one day she even picks a fight landing herself in the principal’s office.
Axolotl Overkill is the type of film that has it’s protagonist (we’re using that term very, very lightly) get away with practically murder without the consequences. Perhaps inside Mifti’s mind, every act has its internal consequence. But for the audience, there’s hardly a growth in character or willingness to want her to go beyond this bratty behavior.
Every sequence is simply a testament to her hedonistic lifestyle, albeit leaving herself a detached shell of a young woman. Consumed by sex, drugs and obsession, that’s all that matters in the life of Mifti. There’s no real quest to find oneself, rather get lost in a sea of youthful pleasure. She’s so detached that during a sex scene, she wished she was being raped for real. Her outlets aren’t much better. She befriends a TV actress named Ophelia (Mavie Horbinger), who’s riddled with a personality disorder, violent behavior and a cocaine addiction. She also falls in love with a much older criminal (Arly Jover), who’s not exactly the best of influences either.
First-time director, Helene Hegemann tackled her own source material in Axolotl Overkill. And while it may have been a provocative yarn of self-destruction on paper, the translation to film emerges as rocky. Many times throughout, we have to question whether or not the goal here is dishing out more abstraction or saddling for more moments of shock value. We get a sense of what Hegemann is trying for here, but we quickly find ourselves maneuvering within a melancholic narrative.
Despite a less-than-stellar narrative, lead Jasna Fritzi Bauer is pretty solid as Mitzi. She has to put on the facade that she’s ten years younger and the payoff is seamless. In real life, she’s a 27-year-old portraying a teenager. It’s a realistic approach to an teenager in the midst of a downward spiral. However, some of the character’s actions just leave the audience highly uncomfortable before the credits start rolling.
Evolution cinematographer, Manuel Dacosse at least makes the Axolotl Overkill look visually rewarding. From the streets of Berlin to blinding nightclubs to Mitzi’s abode, it feels naturally captured, even claustrophobic on occasion.
Axolotl Overkill has plenty of potential in exploring an unlikable young woman’s downward spiral and unwillingness to blossom into a woman, who could turn her life around. With some fine tuning, some of its teases might actually become fulfillments.