Mucky in terms of atmosphere and execution, Kristian Levring’s follow-up to
The King Is Alive again exploits the device of strangers in a strange land. This time the Danish filmmaker drops the absurdist tang and nutty non-sequiturs that kept King watchable (Brion James dancing a jig in a business suit; Janet McTeer bellowing about “the magnetic power of tits!”) in favor of a more serious and respectable geo-cultural metaphor. Yet the existential crisis is swallowed up by a weightier cinematic crisis. The plot’s setup—here, the players are stationed for various reasons at a remote trading post in the Malaysian jungle, circa 1924—amplifies the real life significance, but these people, while admittedly well-performed by an able cast, don’t so much absorb the mud as they are absorbed by it, resulting in a petulant, empty imitation of Apocalypse Now’s last reel. The widow Mrs. Jones (Brenda Fricker, recalling the stubbornness of her role as Christy Brown’s mother in My Left Foot) runs the station with a taut social paranoia that she’s passed to her slob son (Tony Maudsley) and his simpleton former nanny (Olympia Dukakis), who now administers hand jobs to the 35-year-old “boy” as a degenerate form of caretaking. Enter a boyish British surveyor (JJ Field) and his noticeably older intended (McTeer) to offset the surrounding sociopathy with their sly European greed, which is just enough to send everything spiraling out of grasp. Whereas The King is Alive explicitly namechecked King Lear, Levring has more trouble breaking The Intended off its stagy hinges, though his thoughtful camera framing and employment of dolly and tracking shots is welcome given the blackened DV aesthetic. Co-scripted by McTeer with an obvious ear to her theatrical roots, the allegory is leaden, the entrances robotic, and the dialogue unmemorable—miraculously, however, she is again revelatory. Unraveling a tacit backstory to this woman whose imposing femininity acts as a detriment, McTeer unconsciously draws a wry parallel to her place in Hollywood, where her inability to project victimhood had rendered her a non-entity. Armed with eyes that could flatten schoolbuses one minute and drown in vulnerability the next, McTeer continues to be the world’s greatest actress who barely works. If Wolfgang Peterson had any guts, she would have been offered Helen of Troy.