*Trigger warning: This review discusses eating disorders*
The satirical possibilities present within Jessica Hausner‘s dramatic Club Zero are ripe. The execution, however, is undercooked; ironic, considering the topic at the core of this truly odd and oft dangerous film.
At an elite private school, the enigmatic Miss Novak (Mia Wasikowska) has arrived to teach a select group of students about “conscious eating”, a form of food intake that, supposedly, lowers your portion size and increases both mental and physical functions. The students have all joined for a variety of reasons – some want to save the planet, others to curb their junk habits – but they share a common goal. At least initially.
Miss Novak, who has an unsettlingly familiar demeanour about her when interacting with the children, has been employed by the school under the good authority that her teaching methods are successful. She appears to be living proof that her way of eating (or not eating, as we discover) can be sustainable, and to a group of high-schoolers it’s naturally appealing to want to take on such a program that can only benefit your body.
It goes without saying that such a way of thinking is perilous, and the film, which rightfully comes with a trigger warning regarding scenes and discussions surrounding eating disorders, could have much to say about its topic. Sadly, Hausner – who has laced the film with a monotonous mentality that occasionally gives way to some deadpan humour, but mostly feels as if it’s merely extending the running time – hasn’t pulled off the satirical nature to make us sitting through some truly traumatic and disgusting scenes (one involving a child eating her own vomit) worth it.
Seeing a child brainwashed by an outsider is a parent’s nightmare, and even their unwillingness (and the school’s, for that matter) to step in to curb Miss Novak’s influence is a comment Hausner doesn’t feel like addressing wholeheartedly either. I have to imagine Club Zero‘s intent was to poke fun at the ridiculousness of such an idea as “conscious eating” and the cult-like mentality that comes with following with such a food trend, but it all feels too distressing for its comedic temperament to shine through.
I’m all for being challenged and feeling uncomfortable when viewing, but, and maybe I missed the point or I’m too sensitive, without Club Zero honing a clear angle of discussion, it ultimately just feels like a nasty, irresponsible effort.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Club Zero is screening as part of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival, running between October 26th and November 5th, 2023.