The plot is set in Berlin, where a maniac is preying upon people with intricate tattoos, harvesting their skin and leaving them for dead. The detective assigned to the case, Minks (Christian Redl) is a brutal, uncompromising thug who blackmails fresh-faced rookie Schrader (August Diehl, also in the German horror sequel “Anatomy 2”) into helping him after he is caught red-handed with recreational drugs. As the two investigate the growing number of victims, they are pulled into a seedy underworld of S&M and extreme body piercing, where rich collectors pay high prices for the ultimate flesh trophies. However, the closer they seem to get to the killer, the more it becomes apparent that he too is watching them, and playing his own twisted game with their lives and sanity.
The idea of an unlikely pairing of policemen facing off against a mysterious killer is one of the most overused ideas in modern cinema, though to Schwentke’s credit, he does manage to avoid the worst of the ‘cop buddy’ cliché. Minks and Schrader are a fairly disparate couple, never in any danger of becoming fast friends or dating each other’s sisters, and the script does a nice job of providing each with some interesting character details, even if some of these are exploited for cheap twists in the film’s latter stages.
As should be fairly obvious, the plot as a whole is overly familiar and predictable, and there are no surprises in store for any viewer who has seen “Se7en” or any of its legions of progeny. Schwentke seems to be under the unfortunate impression that the 7 years between “Tattoo” and Fincher’s film have served to wipe viewers’ memories clean, and so he shows an almost astounding lack of shame when lifting crucial narrative details. Although the whole ‘tattoo collector’ premise is a new angle, everything else about the film, right through to the downbeat ending, is decidedly stale.
This is also true of the visuals, which are predictably wet and gloomy, illuminated only by occasional flashes of neon. Schwentke’s problem is that he takes things a little too far, and piles on so much murk that the viewer is likely to suffer eye strain while trying to work out what is going on. Although this does make the proceedings reasonably atmospheric, and even quite creepy in places, when the final credits role, the overall impression is that of having spent nearly two hours in a dank, gloomy tunnel rather than having experienced any kind of thrill ride.
Nevertheless, there is a fair amount to enjoy about “Tattoo”. Although his direction is highly derivative, and his sense of pacing is at times questionable, Schwentke does have a few tricks of his own, and also manages to throw in a few effective scenes involving skin art, most notably when a woman wears a white coat during a rainstorm, gradually revealing what lies beneath. Similarly, whilst the plot fails to hold any surprises, it is inoffensive enough, and if the viewer is in the right mood, then it acts as a guilty pleasure or lazy homage rather than a blatant cheat.
The film’s greatest strength, at least for some viewers, will be the fact that it is inventively sadistic, and contains a good amount of gore. Schwentke has a cruel, unflinching eye for human suffering, and there are a number of genuinely unpleasant scenes of autopsies and skin being removed. Such sequences give the film a huge boost, and serve well to keep the viewer interested during the many occasions where the pace drops to a crawl. Although these are not quite enough to make “Tattoo” a good film, they do at least lift it into the category of ‘entertaining’, which is far more than can be said for the majority of similar efforts.
Robert Schwentke (director) / Robert Schwentke (screenplay)
CAST: August Diehl …. Marc Schrader
Christian Redl …. Minks
Nadeshda Brennicke …. Maya Kroner
Johan Leysen …. Frank Schoubya
Fatih Cevikkollu …. Dix