We Might As Well Be Dead is a dark, dystopic satire about the fragility of polite society and how very quickly it can shatter when its members feel their security is the least bit threatened.
Ana (Ioana Iacob) has been working security at St. Phoebus House, an apartment high-rise whose grounds are secured by tall fencing and razor-wire. Admission is exclusive and applicants must demonstrate that they will be an asset to the House’s community and will not cause any disharmony. It is a system that seems to keep the peace for the most part, with those who threaten that harmony facing expulsion out the compound’s gates. But a complaint from a resident about a missing dog becomes the first crack in the system, ultimately leading to some of the residents taking up arms, or in this case golf clubs, in order to preserve their own idea of order. But even when the believed threat to the house’s security is caught and expelled, things do not go back to normal. The lure of fear being used to control people and the ruling class always needing a boogeyman to keep the populace in line is too strong. Those in charge are more than happy to let the threat of expulsion from the House keep residents fearfully self-confined to their apartments.
The debut feature from Russian-German Natalia Sinelnikova, We Might As Well Be Dead is a dark fable, a social satire examining how fragile society can be when the feeling of security is threatened and how legitimate concerns can escalate to paranoia and fearmongering. As one golf club-wielding resident bluntly tells Anna, “Since the house can no longer protect us, the group will protect the house.” The end result is mob-rule and ultimately fascism. Obviously, a story like this coming from a German director carries a certain historical weight to it. But there is also a power to the film while you are watching it and finding contemporary things that could be analogous to your own home country.
What circumstances led to the creation of the House, and presumably the others like it eluded to, are never addressed. Nor is there ever any actual hint as to the dangers that may lie beyond the House’s barbwire fenced perimeter. And that is probably for the best. Without definition, this past event and its legacy exists as an almost subconscious existential dread. What lurks in the woods could be monsters or could be absolutely nothing. But the fear of that unknown underscores and informs everyone’s actions and will serve as the tinder to the fire of paranoia that will soon sweep through the House.
Throughout the film, Ana is reticent to speak out about the changes that the House is going through. She fears more for her safety and the safety of her daughter than in standing up to the growing mob of residents. There is no cathartic scene where any of the actions of the residents are rebuked by her. And in a way, that lack of release makes the audience complicit with what is happening, leaving them to think about their own actions in society once the credits have rolled and the theater lights have come up.