‘Hinterland’ Review: Murderers Among Us

Stefan Ruzowitzky’s film sets a serial-killer mystery in Vienna after the ravages of World War I and employs some dazzling blue-screen backdrops.

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By Nicolas Rapold

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The backdrops are the star attraction in “Hinterland,” a post-World War I serial-killer mystery directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. Stretched across panoramic wide-screen, the eye-popping film portrays 1920 Vienna as a pullulating Old World metropolis, its buildings reeling at canted angles, its streets hosting grotesque violence.

Perg (Murathan Muslu) is a returning P.O.W. who yearns for the wife he left behind and gets drawn into investigating some baroque murders. This chiseled ex-cop feels forgotten, as we are repeatedly reminded; everyone around him is scrambling to survive or in thrall to an “ism” (communism, anarchism, opportunism). Ruzowitzky, who directed the Academy Award-winning World War II drama “The Counterfeiters,” has a taste for the dark bargains of war and its aftermath, though here he mostly musters a neo-noir mood of regret.

Perg figures out that the killings have something to do with grisly decisions made by soldiers during the war. The screenplay for “Hinterland” then clicks a little too abruptly into its grooves to sit with all the story’s implications, as we follow the cat-and-mouse machinations of the investigation and Perg’s missed-connection romance with a forensics doctor, Theresa (Liv Lisa Fries, a “Babylon” star).

But the hypervivid visuals remain a feat, shot almost exclusively on blue screens (with much credit due to the digital art director, Oleg Prodeus). Expressionist painters like Ludwig Meidner spring to mind, as does Lars Von Trier’s post-World War II journey into the abyss, “Europa,” with its own looming back-projections and moral swamps. If only the story of “Hinterland” felt as engrossing and alive as its setting.

Not rated. In German, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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