Johannes Grenzfurthner, Kudra Owens, Jason Scott Sadofsky, Katharina Rose, Ethan Haslam (voice)
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…a stressful and grimy look at obsession. Its one-of-a-kind presentation will make you squirm and get under your skin long after the film is over.
There’s a common discourse around self-diagnosing, and how it’s inherently a terrible idea. You wake up with a sore ankle and two minutes on Web MD later, you’ve convinced yourself that you have seconds to live. Having access to everything all of the time is probably not conducive towards rational thinking. That’s certainly the case in Masking Threshold, from Austrian director Johannes Grenzfurthner (Glossary of Broken Dreams).
The film’s unnamed protagonist (played by Grenzfurthner and voiced by Ethan Haslam) is an IT worker with a complex diagnosis of tinnitus. Well, complex to him at least. Through his narration, we learn that the protagonist has spoken to many a doctor about his tinnitus, only to be told that there’s not much that can be done. Despite what the experts have advised – including several suggestions of therapy – the IT worker refuses to believe that there isn’t something unique about his condition.
Over the next 90 minutes, the protagonist takes us through numerous experiments and papers he’s read online that, to him at least, point to something much bigger going on in his ears. In minute detail, he tries to convince us that his tinnitus changes when there are certain objects in a room: plants, bananas, super glue and so on. Shut away in his tiny basement with his makeshift lab, he just knows that he’ll get to bottom of it all. There is, after all, a meaning behind everything.
Masking Threshold’s worst horrors come in the final act, when the protagonist makes a monumental leap of faith about his condition that pretty much cracks his sanity in two. And bear in mind this is a man we’ve seen boil his own urine.
Before then, this is almost a powder dry film, as we watch the protagonist become obsessed with minor things that would ordinarily go over the heads of others. A brief visit from his neighbour doesn’t seem to persuade him that his time might be better spent outside. When he uploads his ‘findings’ to YouTube, the derisive comments from the public only seem to fuel him further.
The languid pacing is a deliberate play by Grenzfurthner, which lets you marinate in his character’s worldview, before he finally turns up the heat. When the protagonist starts experimenting on ants and slugs, it’s clear to see where this is all going, but it’s still shocking.
Grenzfurthner’s use of extreme closeups adds to the increasing uncomfortableness of the protagonist’s ‘research’. The director makes the audience a part of these unconscionable deeds even when we try to look away. Yes, at times, the heavy use of medical terms and theories becomes impenetrable, and this will be off putting to some. However, it serves the purpose of showing how everything in Masking Threshold is this man’s world now. He is so entrenched in his work that he ignores his mother and his boss’ calls, just so he can take the next step towards self-actualisation. His conclusion is that he gets ‘it’, he knows what’s happening in the world, and he’s just waiting for everyone else to catchup. Sound familiar?
Masking Threshold is a stressful and grimy look at obsession. Its one-of-a-kind presentation will make you squirm and get under your skin long after the film is over.