Cuckoo // Overlook Film Festival Review: Cuckoo Indeed

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Cuckoo follows 17-year-old Gretchen as she moves to the German Alps with her father and his new family. While trying to get acclimated to life outside of America and being unceremoniously inserted into her dad’s new life, she can’t help noting all the red flags with her dad’s new boss, Mr. König. She soon begins to wonder if all the weird things happening are connected to her half-sister, Alma. Possibly because Mr. König has taken an unusual interest in Alma. 

Can Someone Ask Hunter Schafer To Do More Horror?

Many of us mostly know Hunter Schafer from her role on Euphoria, so we’ve been dying to see her enter the horror chat with the new film Cuckoo. I’m happy to report she leads this bizarre genre film as effortlessly as most of us breathe. Writer-director Tilman Singer (Luz) gives us much to unpack in this script, which is only elevated by Schafer’s coolness factor. Singer also wrote this character to be the only voice of reason in this maddening world. Which also helps her win audiences over because she’s asking the same questions we are. It’s hard to believe this is her first time leading a feature film. If she’s swinging this hard out of the gate, then I sincerely hope this genre can keep her. 

We love to see the Euphoria ladies hanging out in our genre (Barbie Ferreira killed her screentime in Nope, and Zendaya has given you nine hours of sci-fi via the Dune films). However, with how fast and furious they appear, it’s hard not to begin mentally ranking the projects. I was not the first to say Cuckoo is better than Immaculate, and I won’t be the last. Not only are both fronted by actors from the same show, but they are also both Neon titles.

Where Immaculate picks it up in the third act, Cuckoo is an odd little bird the whole damn time. It also doesn’t make us wait until the end for our lead to show final girl energy. Gretchen has a butterfly knife, will not be told what to do, and isn’t afraid of confrontation. As someone always pleading for filmmakers to actually talk to women so they can stop writing us as helpless and uninteresting, I was very much fucking here for this.  

This Is Actually Cuckoo Though!

Singer puts the pedal to the metal immediately. We are thrown into this bizarre world, knowing something is severely off. I felt the flight or fight instincts as I tried to unpack why something minor like an ear twitch could be so disturbing. The filmmaker spins the most mundane moments into beacons of danger for the entire film. I will never look at ladies who wear wigs and scarves without thinking of the more terrifying scenes in Cuckoo. I am also even more opposed to being near children than I was beforehand. 

We caught this movie at SXSW and Overlook Film Festival because I needed to see it again to attempt to put the experience into words. I knew I liked it after the first viewing. However, it’s not an easy movie to convey why because it’s bigger than its runtime. Tilman has infused this chaotic title with shades of Giallo, some body horror, bits of supernatural shit, and so much more. This is why it works that Herr König (Dan Stevens) feels like he’s in a different movie at times. Because there are so many movies found within this one, anything goes. 

And One More Thing

As a Black woman who loves horror, I spend plenty of time frustrated with my beloved genre. I have too many podcasts and write at so many places because I’m tired. The tropes and careless depictions of the global majority are beyond frustrating at this point. However, we keep getting them so fast and furious that I need multiple places to let me yell from the rooftops why representation matters. I clock a lot of filmmakers who show up for one demographic but then act like they’ve never heard of intersectionality. I am also very pissed with how many movies we’ve already seen roll out with an all-white cast this year. 

So, I loved that this blended family wasn’t four white people in a trench coat. I love that Alma (Mila Lieu) is Gretchen’s half-sister who is mute but has an actual personality instead of being a tired trope. I was so happy that Beth, the stepmom, is played by Jessica Henwick. Where most films still settle on an all-white cast when they have a blended family, this one doesn’t. Not only is that fucking refreshing, but it’s much more realistic than the film industry seems to understand. While Cuckoo marches to its own beat and isn’t concerned about who gets it, it also understands that a lack of inclusion shouldn’t be where the horror stems from.