Editor’s Note: Men & Chicken opens in limited theatrical release today, April 22, 2016.
When their father dies, Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are given a video containing an important message from the recently deceased. Or at least it’s supposed to be an important message, but thanks to incompetence is instead just a few seconds of the camera accidentally pointed at their father’s crotch as he explains they’re not his real sons, but rather adopted brothers who share the same father, though not the same mother. Before the old man can get much further, the video ends, having been recorded over in classic sitcom fashion. Armed with one name and access to the internet, Gabriel discovers his biological father is still alive on a small island called Ork, and heads out, reluctantly agreeing to let Elias tag along. What they find are three disfigured stepbrothers with a penchant for violence, a rotting old sanitarium housing both animals and humans, and their 100-year-old father hidden away behind locked doors.
Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen has never been known for traditional fare, and Men & Chicken is about as strange and skewed as one would expect.
Men & Chicken is, as the storybook intro says, the tale of brothers who hadn’t been dealt the best cards, and in fact “hadn’t been dealt any cards at all.” If Gabriel and Elias are already strange, their nearest kin, straight out of an American hicksploitation flick from the ’70s, are downright frightening, though unusually good-hearted when they’re not doling out head blows or raping farm animals. Josef (Nicholas Bro) is especially mild-mannered and intelligent; one of the best scenes comes when he interprets the Bible in a highly literal manner, thwarting Gabriel’s attempt to use the Good Book as a guide to proper behavior.
Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen has never been known for traditional fare, and Men & Chicken is about as strange and skewed as one would expect. Mikkelsen will be the most familiar face to American viewers and seems to play to that assumption, the self-conscious (though impressively horrible) wig an attempt to erase any trace of sexiness he brings to other roles. The film works best when taken as an ensemble piece, however; Mikkelsen’s Elias may be a blowhard and a chronic masturbator, but in this family, he’s just another brother.
It’s a gross-out comedy, albeit one that borrows heavily from a few dozen horror films with the specific intention of taking their self-importance down a notch or two.
Filled with dark humor set amidst a rainbow of grimy browns, Men & Chicken explores the usual territory with regards to dysfunctional families, sibling rivalry and social isolation. It’s a tale of brothers, of course, and fathers and maybe-fathers and enormous stud bulls, and one would expect women to take a secondary role in such a context, but there’s a point where this secondary status of women goes from benign to cancerous. Unsurprisingly, the film doesn’t stop at being merely offensive.
Why would it? It’s a gross-out comedy, albeit one that borrows heavily from a few dozen horror films with the specific intention of taking their self-importance down a notch or two. It’s also heavily steeped in philosophy, and cheerfully takes some of the more bonkers philosophical theories — think Aristotle and his declaration that the female is a “mutilated male” — to their logical conclusions. Add in a few chickens with the heads of cows and a strangely important set of kitschy dinnerware, and the film is pretty much fucking the audience just to see the look on their face.
Irreverent, darkly comedic and as grimy as hell, Men & Chickens is practically an anti-horror film, using the genre's own tropes against it, and to hilarious effect.