Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In short: Rovdyr (2008)

aka Manhunt

It's 1974. The siblings Mia (Nini Bull Robsahm) and Jorgen (Jorn-Bjorn Fuller-Gee) are going camping in the deep dark Norwegian woods with Mia's best friend Camilla (Henriette Bruusgaard) and Camilla's boyfriend Roger (Lasse Valdal).

It's going to be their last real get-together for a long time because Camilla will be studying abroad for a year. Looking at how tense and passive-aggressive Roger acts around her, that will probably be for the better for her.

Or rather, would be better for her if their trip wouldn't end in blood and guts. At the last rest stop before their planned camping side, the friends pick up a girl who seems terribly frightened of three men with hunting gear driving around in a jeep.

After one of the less clever script ideas to get a group of protagonists out of their car and into danger (yes, let's throw away our car keys!), the hunters ambush the friends, killing some of them and leaving the three survivors tied up somewhere in the woods. They're not tied up too good, of course, or they wouldn't be able to free themselves to provide an interesting hunting experience for their captors.

Camilla, the least obvious candidate, will turn out to be quite a survivor.

I'm really of two minds about Rovdyr. On one hand, the film's director Patrik Syversen manages to create a film with a unified aesthetic on very little money. The woods, the muted colour palette, the excellent yet never gratuitous gore effects and the subtly clever sound design unite to a direct homage to the mood and feel of a 70s piece of grindhouse survival horror. If you add the solid acting and the (mostly) tight and tense script, you have a film that's as technically excellent as you could wish for.

On the other hand, it is also a very empty experience. It's one thing to make a homage to the style and feel of 70s horror, but quite another to keep as slavishly to that formula as if you'd believe it still were 1974.

What Rovdyr misses for me is a reason to care for it beyond its considerable technical achievements. Everything here happens exactly as you would expect it to happen in a film written in 1974. The film never deviates from its sources for a second, even the semi-downer ending is there and accounted for exactly as expected. The big difference between this film and its models is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Last House on Dead End Street had something to say about the state of the world they were made in or the state of mind of the people who made them. Rovdyr seems to lack this kind of resonance completely and has nothing else to replace it.

This is by no means meant to bash Syversen's work. Technical perfection is hard enough to achieve on its own, and if a director's first feature film has a surface this well done, I expect something truly exciting from his next one. After all, the director is already much farther along on the road to making a good film than most people working on this (non-)level of budget.


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