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The Independent Critic

Ioana Iacob, Pola Geiger, Jorg Schuttauf, Siir Eloglu, Moritz Jahn, Susanne Wuest, Knut Berger, Mina Ozlem Sagdic
Natalia Sinelnikova
Natalia Sinelnikova, Viktor Gallandi
94 Mins.
Hope Runs High

 Movie Review: We Might As Well Be Dead 
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There is an almost suffocating sense of fear throughout Natalia Sinelnikova's remarkably assured feature debut We Might as Well Be Dead, a fiercely dark yet remarkably funny satire set within the confines a secluded high-rise seemingly set apart to offer safety and security from an outer world offering horrors both real and potentially imagined. Anna (Ioana Iacob) is a caretaker of sorts for the community, serving as both security and the initial screener for potential new residents who are then reviewed by a sort of HOA from hell. It becomes clear fairly early on that despite her long-term presence within the community, Anna is an outsider who is "othered" by the community in ways big and small. It doesn't help that the single mother's daughter, Iris (Pola Geiger), is starting to crack under communal pressures and how we experience here throughout much of the film is part of what gives We Might as Well Be Dead its lasting power. 

Indeed, I've had few films this year that truly lingered in my psyche. We Might as Well Be Dead is still festering away. 

Such an incredible debut is even more impressive because We Might as Well Be Dead was the graduate film for Sinelnikova's film studies work at Babelsburg Film University. Sinelnikova emigrated from St. Petersburg to Germany as a child in 1996 and there's no question that We Might as Well Be Dead is at least influenced by those early memories of always feeling like an outsider. 

We Might as Well Be Dead had its world premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival as the opening film of the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section. It picked up the Best International Cinematography prize at Tribeca before being picked up by Hope Runs High, in association with Aspect Ratio, for a limited theatrical followed by digital/VOD release. Viewers of the film will feel cinematic similarities to Yorgos Lanthimos, though Sinelnikova's work here has a greater sense of intimacy and left me feeling more jarred emotionally despite the film's relatively detached storytelling scripted by Sinelnikova with Viktor Gallandi. 

We Might as Well Be Dead takes a mostly lighter approach to darker themes, though it's also fair to say there's a sense of menace that builds throughout the film. Once experienced as the consummately safe community, things begin to spiral downward after several unsettling occurrences including the disappearance of a resident's dog and that same resident's passionate belief that someone within the community was responsible. 

The story that follows is one of mistrust, fear, xenophobia, and the ways in which paranoia can create a toxic herd mentality. 

We Might As Well Be Dead features a sublime ensemble cast largely guided by Iacob's off-kilter yet emotionally engaging performance as Anna filled with dialogue spoken and unspoken. Hers is a mesmerizing performance that drew me in and never let me go. 

The award-winning lensing by Jan Mayntz is extraordinary in both becoming part of the story without ever dominating it. We're never privy, for example, as to what exactly is going on in the outside world, if anything, and we're never offered a history of this residential community other than learning that, in fact, some have been born here and some have not. Mayntz's camera constantly gives us that sense of "other," both comforting and isolating. 

Music by Maxi Menot and Michael Kondaurow is utter perfection.

There is a sense of detachment present throughout We Might as Well Be Dead, though it's noteworthy that I never felt detached from it. Instead, even the most thinly drawn characters here drew me in and I felt their anxieties, fears, and paranoia. 

Quite simply, We Might as Well Be Dead is a stunning debut for Sinelnikova and an announcement that this is a filmmaker I will be watching for in the future. With precision, insight, and extraordinary vision, Sinelnikova has crafted one of the year's finest international features. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic