Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In short: Escape (2012)

Original title: Flukt

Norway, in 1363. In the aftermath of the black plague, what little there had been of social order is destroyed, leaving the remaining population fighting for their lives or attempting to flee for more prosperous shores.

The family of young Signe (Isabel Christine Andreasen) attempts the latter, but an encounter with a group of bandits under the leadership of a woman named Dagmar (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) leaves everyone except the teenager dead. For Signe, Dagmar has other plans. Dagmar has adopted a girl named Frigg (Milla Olin), and now has ambitions to get her hands on a little sister for her. Trouble is, Dagmar can’t get children, so she decides Signe would make a nice replacement birth mother for a prospective sister, notwithstanding the fact that Signe’s hardly a woman, or minor things like the rape(s) that are necessarily part of this plan.

Frigg isn’t quite at the point where she’s as ruthless as Dagmar yet, though, and frees Signe. Because one of Dagmar’s men witnesses the deed, Frigg flees together with the older girl, which of course does make Dagmar’s resulting attempts to get her “daughter” back rather more enthusiastic than I’d imagine them to have been if they had only been about Signe.

I know Escape’s director Roar Uthaug from the generic competence of the first Cold Prey film, that of course also starred Ingrid Bolsø Berdal though in a rather more pleasant role, so I mostly expected the film at hand to be about the same – competent but lacking in substance or imagination.

Turns out I was wrong again, for while Escape is certainly a slickly made film, it’s also one with a personality of its own that adds more than enough interesting, even surprising, elements to its basic historical adventure set-up. For the most part, it’s the film’s tight focus that impresses most about it, Uthaug’s ability to tell a tale Hollywood would bloat up to two and a half hours in less than one and a half, without ever losing control or keeping things too superficial. There’s a leanness and sparseness on display that fits Norway’s – quite breathtakingly photographed – landscape as well as it fits the way the characters’ medieval lives are by necessity turning out.

Uthaug is particularly good at providing the film’s main characters with additional dimensions and life in just the same way: Dagmar has a tragic past that explains a lot of what she is doing and why she does it without the film ever feeling the need to excuse her with it, and Signe’s guilt for the death of her family makes perfect sense as the driving factor even for the on paper slightly preposterous (and pretty final girl-like) finale. The film never gets soppy there, nor does it fall into the trap of explaining too much – there’s a clear belief in the audience understanding meaningful gestures even when they are small on display. The actors for their parts do know how deliver these gestures well.

Consequently, the film’s well-filmed genre action is grounded as a tale of actual human beings rather than the adventures of walking and talking tropes, and becomes more meaningful, more effective, and just more human, by it, making Escape a movie well worth watching.

No comments: