By Daniel Barnes
The opening titles say it all: “This film is in sign language. There are no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over.”
A conceptually unique and visually compelling Ukrainian import comprised of only 34 shots, The Tribe follows the arrival and ascent of a shy new boy at a school for the deaf, an august institution that conceals a Bret Easton Ellis by way of the Dardenne Brothers hotbed of criminality and perversion.
Don’t expect some Tobey Maguire-looking motherfucker to get in touch with his “feelings” about his “handicap” here. This is some dark, brutal, and ultimately quite repugnant stuff. It’s also a seductively immersive dive into a world of silence, a world where even bare-knuckle brawls and back-alley abortions (oh, did I not mention the real-time, back-alley abortion scene?) get shrouded in an all-encompassing quiet.
A merciless boy gang rules the school, thriving in robbery and extortion and truck stop pimping, and establishing a cutthroat student hierarchy. The new kid is initially bullied, but he joins the gang after beating up the leaders, rising through the ranks until his love for one of the prostitutes puts his social status, and his life, in jeopardy.
It’s a fascinating storytelling experiment, always teetering on the edge of gimmickry, mesmerizing and pointless, with an incredibly indulgent string of unpleasantness that dominates the final third. Narrative geeks, Steadicam-philes, Bela Tarr jones-ers, and lovers of all things “extreme” are welcome to dig in. All others, be warned.