Let’s meet our contestants
Director Dick Maas deals in schlock. Over the decades he has painted a consistently satirical version of the Netherlands to serve as backdrop for his films. Whether it’s horror (Amsterdamned, Sint, De Lift) or farcical comedy (the Flodder series, Moordwijven), his oeuvre oozes deliberate pulp. Maas steps outside his comfort zone in Quiz, a film that he himself confesses is unusual in that it’s basically just two men talking to each other in a restaurant. For once, no gross zombies, no gratuitous nudity included.
There is, of course, more to it than that. One of the men is Leo Vandermolen, a famous national quiz show host just retired from a long, televised career. He is waiting at his favorite Italian restaurant for his wife and daughter to arrive. The other man has no name and informs Leo that he has taken that same family captive. All Leo has to do to win their freedom is answer a few simple questions. This begins a tense mind game between the two. Can Leo get through this murderous quiz and save his loved ones?
It’s a simple premise, executed to impeccable effect. Thrills abound when Leo goes through plain disbelief, despair, then anger and back again. There is a moment in the restaurant bathroom that is succinctly reminiscent of The Dark Knight’s seminal interrogation scene – and equally effective. Indeed, the unnamed man, played by Dutch heavyweight Pierre Bokma, combines the sinister wiles of the Joker with the eerie disjointedness of Rupert Pupkin. He is at times cruel, then sympathetic to Leo. Adorned with flop sweat and an out of date bowtie, he coaxes him into playing his game, raises the stakes at every turn, only to order a cold drink with whimsy right after. Unraveling who he actually is and why he is doing this is quite irrelevant and the conclusion is the lamest part of the film. What makes it great are the captivating tableside dialogues, effortlessly switching between chilling suspense and dark comedy.
It is, needless to say, more pulp than thriller. In typical Dick Maas fashion inevitably SWAT teams, shootouts and a cheesy ending must be involved. Reject these elements and you lose the film entirely. Embrace them for what they are and by Jove, you’re in for a ride. It’s what the actors did as well. Sure, they’re chewing scenery, but that’s what these parts call for. Of special enjoyment is seeing Bokma, who usually stars in respectable drama and theatre, cranking it up to eleven for the weirdest role in his life. I went to this film twice in a single week, just to admire his performance as a capricious trickster.
If you’ve never seen Dutch cinema before, this will surely skew your view on it. But please, don’t let that stop you: do step right up for this Quiz.