The period narrative of Hinterland (2021) is effective, but even more impressive is its otherworldly atmosphere. Its surreal visual palette, created by superimposing human actors against computer-generated backdrops, has an unnerving effect that nicely serves its grim mystery. Set shortly after World War I, it involves the disorienting homecoming of an Austrian soldier, Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu), who returns to Vienna after serving his country. Life on the home front has changed forever with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Perg—traumatized by his experiences in combat and time in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp—is struggling to re-acclimate to civilian life. When his squad mates start to get murdered, Perg is brought back onto the police force, where he used to be a detective. Embarking on a fraught collaboration with a police superintendent (Marc Limbach), a suspicious young officer (Max von der Groeben), and an unflappable medical examiner (Liv Lisa Fries), Perg starts pursuing the truth, which appears to have ties to his harrowing wartime past.
Hinterland’s bleak mystery isn’t all that unique, something of a “historical noir” full of graphically staged crime scenes and predictable revenge. More interesting is the setting, an under-explored corner of the past at a time of change for a fallen world power. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky uses cockeyed angles and striking production design to illustrate the psychology of the time—especially for Perg, whom Muslu enacts sympathetically. Fries, of Babylon Berlin fame, doesn’t exactly stretch out of her comfort zone in this similar role, but brightens the screen whenever she appears, while Limpach makes for a great love-to-hate foil. The impression it leaves isn’t terribly deep, but it’s definitely a commendable production, and it makes an important, very correct choice in its nice final moment.