Early on, there is an inkling that “Men & Chicken,” written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. After the final credits, you still can’t decide, as to whether you have just witnessed a poor slapstick showcasing, a scatterbrained, yet, well-developed drama or a quasi-sci-fi flick. Maybe all.
Alienated, afflicted brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) re-up after the death of whom they believe to be their father. This “father” bequeaths a tape, in which he reveals the lost, severed contents of the brothers’ lineage.
Both Gabriel, who is a philosopher, and Elias, who is more or less a sexually-frustrated, maligned teenager in a middle-aged man’s body, ferry their way to the nearly-depopulated island of Ork in hopes of finding their shared half-brothers.
After a stay with the village’s mayor, during which Elias tries to secure a sexual encounter with the mayor’s daughter, the pair officially find their way to their brother’s house, which is a former sanatorium. Jensen’s filming exhausts this archaic and weird lore of the building, which holds water-damaged books, peeling paint, myriad genetically-altered farm animals, no electricity and, well, the three ostracized brothers of Gabriel and Elias.
These three brothers, Josef, Franz and Gregor, have no formal education, are at split ends with one another, and have deformities like Gabriel and Elias. They move like swift hermits, as Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) comes off as a semi-sentimental barbarian, Franz (Søren Malling) as a mad, ingenious foil to Gabriel, and Josef (Nicolas Bro) as a witty and unpredictable progressive.
One after one, all five of the brothers heavily beat each other, with everything from rolling pins to taxidermal birds. This is contrasted with few intellectual moments.
The slapstick portion of the film, which lasts about 45 minutes and is comprised of the aforementioned beatings, comes off as unfunny, contrived and forced. The shift from this into a deeply-engaged drama turns into a sigh of relief, though the occasional clunking over the head still happens.
Gabriel’s infectious curiosity progresses the plot, out of the strict laughingstock and into a realm where the family’s mysterious background becomes the most non-linear ever heard of, almost to absurdity. Franz, as he plays the role of gatekeeper, seems to be the most aware of the family history, and has a knack for punishing (a.k.a. knocking out) Gabriel whenever the philosopher wants access to the “forbidden” basement to solve the dilemma.
Once Gabriel gets his way and breaks through the basement door, all of the brothers, due to their (shared) dead father’s experimental fanaticism for genetics, it is revealed, are slightly animal. Each man attempts to recognize and solve his own animalistic urges, without knowing the exact genetic composition of himself until the end. It is after these revelations that the brothers finally come to understand each other.
The rubric for this hair-raising film is, almost to its detriment, bugged-out and brutish, but there are a few instances of absurdity that make your gust slightly bust and a few instances where you want to quickly shed a tear, all while scratching your head at the deranged allure. The film may make sense a few days after watching, which is a miracle in itself.