VENI VIDI VICI (Sydney FF 2024) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Amon Maynard (Laurence Rupp) is a billionaire with it all, and yet it is apparently not enough. An influential businessman who has government ministers at his beck and call, a beautiful, adoring wife, and three daughters who idolize him, Maynard still craves satisfaction.

This is the context within which the opening scene of Veni Vidi Vici introduces the The Most Dangerous Game style human hunt that sits at the heart of the movie. With the help of his devoted butler, Maynard has also become a kind of casual, part-time serial killer, a notorious sniper who randomly guns down unfortunate members of his community who have committed no offence greater than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wielding the stamp of quality that the brilliant Austrian director and producer Ulrich Siedl’s name has now become, it is here – in his capacity in the latter role – that Veni Vidi Vici and its filmmakers Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann find themselves as part of an impressive wave of excitingly twisted contemporary Austrian cinema. In what might be crudely described as a kind of post-Haneke moment, Veni Vidi Vici sits comfortably next to the sharp, astute and at times bleakly comic work of fellow compatriots Jessica Hausner, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.

With its focus not just on Maynard but the other members of his family – particularly his teenage daughter – Veni Vidi Vici does not make any particularly complex attempt to disguise the targets of its satirical portrait of unchecked, total power. More than once in the film, Maynard explicitly encourages people to try and stop him, and he almost seems sincere in this request as he desires some kind of framework to bring order to his life and his sense of his place in the world. That Maynard is the sniper seems to be an open secret, but whether people believe it or not seems almost beside the point. More important is the fact that no one can imagine a man of such wealth and power ever being called into question.

The film works very actively to make its subtext text, which means that it is virtually impossible to watch this movie and not think of figures like Jeffrey Epstein. But Veni Vidi Vici is at its strongest when it turns away from its portrait of power-gone-mad embodied in the figure of Maynard himself and looks instead at the kind of world that has enabled him, with a particularly scathing critique of the role of the press and government in the failure to call such figures to account.

That Hoesl and Niemann make no attempt to disguise the real-world relevance of their film for some might verge on crass, but for the rest of us, this is exactly the point. Hidden in plain sight, the kind of grotesquery that such figures embody says as much about those aspects of our culture that enable them as it does these men themselves.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).