Men & Chicken is a bit of a letdown. It has good things in it, but on the whole, it’s not as good as Adam’s Apples, the 2005 film by the same Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen. I had high hopes for this one: it is the fourth collaboration between Jensen and Mads Mikkelsen. Jensen also has written the brilliant After the Wedding, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (both movies also starring Mikkelsen, but not directed by Jensen), and Red Road.
The film tells about two half-brothers, Gabriel and Elias, who find out that their real dad, a reclusive geneticist, is still alive and is living in a run-down villa on an island. There are chicken and pigeons in the hallways, goats and pigs in the courtyard. There is a prize-winning bull in the basement. The three blokes who live there are very determined to keep the villa to themselves; it’s only when they realize that they all have the same dad, but different mothers, that they grudgingly agree to live under the same leaky roof.
All the five men have a harelip; each of them has strange quirks. Elias (Mikkelsen) tries to mate with almost every alluring human female he comes across and is a compulsive masturbator. Gabriel cannot sleep at night and seems always on the verge of coughing up his food. Franz likes taxidermy far too much, Josef likes to nibble on cheese and run around, and Gregor is loyal to people he likes and bites the ones who are mean to him. They are all quirky in their own way, and there are some funny moments, but on the whole, the movie lacks any kind of storytelling drive for long stretches of time. Quirkyness is not enough.
The five half-brothers quarrel over their chicken dinner and fight and run and sneak through the villa’s dusty corridors. Franz, Josef and Gregor don’t want their dad to appear while Gabriel and Elias are in the house, and the latter two want to find out why. The animals start to look spooky to them. There is a chicken with a chicken leg where no leg should grow. Another chicken has small human-shaped feet. There is a young pig that looks far too human. I am usually slow on the uptake, but I suspected Jensen’s main twist early on, so if you are still reading this review, I have to introduce a SPOILER ALERT: Each of the men is a hybrid. Elias has something of the bull in him, which explains his hair-trigger temper and mating impulses. Gregor is partly a dog. Gabriel has some owl DNA in him, which explains his insomnia and his retching. I forget what the other two men were crossed with, but you get the idea.
That revelation does not improve the movie in retrospect. They are partly animals. So what? What do they do with it? First they fight, like they used to before they knew, and five minutes later they make up, and the movie is over. It would have been more interesting to shorten the existing plot-lines to one hour, then bring in the revelation, then show how the half-brothers deal with their new self-awareness. And there should have been a bit about the different mothers, whose dead bodies are afloat in huge steel tanks downstairs in the basement. Men & Chicken is a horror movie who has forgotten that it is a hybrid of comedy and horror. It gets some of the comedic moments right, but it suppresses the horror-ness of its horror. Remember the scene from Adam’s Apples where the priest tries to convince people that his catatonic son is really well and lively? That scene is weird, sad and cruel all at once. You won’t find such a great scene here.