Ruben Östlund’s award-winning debut feature, Involuntary, out now in selected cinemas, is a startlingly fresh and intelligent film. Some critics have compared it to the work of Neil Labute (In the Company of Men, 1997) and Todd Solondz (Happiness, 1998), although these parallels are misleading. While their work uses grotesques and inflated conceits to exhibit life’s horrors and humiliations, Östlund’s film describes deliberately ordinary folk in deliberately mundane situations, highlighting the hypocrisies and insecurities of contemporary relationships without relying on shock or ridicule. Indeed, in its uber-naturalistic style, and in wearing its message on its sleeve, this film is closer to Dogme period Von Trier.
The film interweaves five stories—“The Party,” “The Bus Trip,” “The Girls,” “The School,” and “The Reunion”—each of which involves characters trying to hold onto personal principles within a complex and assertive group dynamic, be it the classroom or an upper-class dinner party. Every slow-paced, incisively observed scene gently teases out the anxieties bubbling under the surface, which lead—in different ways—to a moment of crisis. But all is not what it seems.