Human Factors is showing at Sundance London on the 1st August, book tickets here.
Picture this. A middle-class family escape to their holiday home for some rest and relaxation, only for a break-in to interrupt their idyllic retreat. Only the mother sees it, and then it’s down to the family to compare their perspectives, only they’re contradicting one another. Was there really a break-in? If that sounds quite riveting, perhaps something in a similar vein to Haneke’s Cache, then you felt the same as I did. Now imagine my disappointment when Human Factors ignores that premise.
Instead, Ronny Trocker transforms what was a captivating opening into a disappointingly generic family drama. Father Jan (Mark Waschke) and Mother Nina (Sabine Timoteo) have a rocky relationship, partially due to the emotional cowardice of Jan and the perhaps implied boredom of Nina, but that’s little explored, if at all. Then there are the children, Emma (Jule Hermann) and Max (Wanja Valentin Kube). Emma is a cookie-cutter angsty teen, stealing cigarettes and staying out way too late. While Max’s singular defining trait is his ownership of a pet rat, aside from that, he’s essentially a cardboard cutout of a child they wheel out for dramatic purposes when necessary.
READ MORE FROM SUNDANCE LONDON HERE
Most of what transpires throughout the film takes place outside of the holiday home, and in some cases, a whole region away. Here, Human Factors seems uninterested in engaging with its creative premise. The closest it comes to this is an unclear repetition of events through an editing device, granting us different perspectives. Admittedly, seeing the incident through Max’s rat’s eyes is creatively unique; however, what we see serves to undermine the entire drama that the film builds upon.
The result is a poor attempt to emulate the success of Force Majeure. After all, if the aim was to expose the weak core of this family, the father, then why not focus upon that. Instead, Human Factors splinters its story into strands that have little connection to one another. Sadly the result is a film lacking any impact; its potential wittered away. Perhaps, Trocker was attempting to explore the inherent subjectiveness of perspective. For example, how Max sees Jan’s actions alternatively to Jan seeing his own. Or how every incident is subject to a margin of error through eye-witness accounts.
But if that’s the case, it isn’t touched upon enough to make a compelling argument to defend Trocker’s film. It feels like a case of mismarketing has upended Human Factors chances at a fair critical assessment, purely because it promised a premise that it seemingly had no interest in delivering on. There is always a margin for error with perspectives – it seems Trocker’s margin is far greater than I was expecting.