Patryk Vega’s lurid opus centers on a particularly imaginative serial killer, and the film’s title gives a couple of clues to connoisseurs of the genre (and Polish history). Breslau is the old name of the city of Wroclaw, which indicates our maniac may look to the past for inspiration. This is reinforced by the reference to pestilence: Could this grandiose exterminator be sending a message?
Admittedly, these traits apply to many cinematic psychopaths, who always seem to draw the worst lessons from yesteryear.
And frankly, “The Plagues of Breslau” (streaming on Netflix) isn’t all that innovative. Vega doubles down on the grotesque (the first victim was alive when sewn into a bull’s hide, the second was quartered by horses, and so on), which he then counterbalances with a familiar pairing of mismatched cops. The sullen detective Helena Rus (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) has the asymmetrical haircut and standoffish demeanor of a cold-wave keyboardist. Lone wolf, check. To solve the ostentatiously deranged murders hitting Wroclaw, she is teamed up with the equally offbeat profiler Magda Drewniak (Daria Widawska), a nerd in a shapeless hoodie and baggy jeans. Crime-solving savant, check.
What makes the movie somewhat interesting is Helena and Magda’s battle against an establishment of lunkheaded chauvinists who take their domination for granted. A pulsating rage at the way society neglects women in particular, its weakest members in general, courses through the movie. More than the displays of flayed flesh, it’s what sticks.
The Plagues of Breslau
Not rated. In Polish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. Watch on Netflix.