Movies and reality are different things, this we all know (do we?). The fact of the camera following the action gives away the fantasy, placing us in a somewhat protected spot from which to experience the story. This is where the narrative comes in, and in some cases (if it’s good enough) it can brake that protection on the spot, tossing us back into a vulnerable state. And even if it happens at some points in the story, Utøya manages to do just that. So, I ask; do you want to experience a terrorist attack first hand? Want to know how it feels like to have someone on your back trying to murder you with a rifle? Then Erick Poppe’s Utøya is the movie you were looking for.
Wanna read the logline?
“A teenage girl struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya”.
I actually didn’t know about this terrorist attack or had any idea of the horrible situation that unfolded in the otherwise peaceful city of Oslo (which is also the setting of one of my favorite movies; Oslo, August 31st), and the movie portraits it in a straightforward way. No time for philosophical debate about the intentions of the assassin or sociological interpretations of the Norwegian culture, none of that. What we get is a movie about a girl trying to find her sister in the middle of increasing danger. And to be honest, this is, at the same time, the weakest and strongest aspect of the movie.
Because it is a suitable protagonist for the story, it works. We understand why she prefers to risk her life to find her sister than to run away like the rest of her friends. But, we understand her because of the somehow “cliché” character build. She’s the girl who “always does what’s right”; yet being like that works to make the whole story happen. I mean, it’s because of her fighting the desire to escape that she stays in the danger zone long enough to explore it. Along the way to find her sister, she meets other characters that are unable to escape; like this child who’s waiting for his brother (presumably killed) or this other girl who’s already been shot, in an increasingly dangerous situation from her. From the farthest as possible from the killer and slowly building into meeting him, the movie dares us to stay and face the situation.
This is actually a pretty clever design, the movie starts with the protagonist literally telling the audience they’re never gonna understand because they’re not there (she’s actually talking over the phone but the intention is clear) and then present us with a normal world in which young people vacationing in this island outside of the city are just hearing about a terrorist attack on a government facility. From there we get to understand a bit about the protagonist (this cliché establishment) because of a discussion with her sister, who seems unable to put herself in the shoes of others. It’s interesting to note that the camera never leaves the side of the protagonist, until the very end, and so we’re at her side as gunshots are heard. From there on and until the end, the in crescendo of peril will certainly keep you rooting for salvation.
But, does it happen?
I guess you’re gonna have to watch the movie to figure it out since I’m no fan of spoilers. I can tell you that it will be an entertaining and frightening experience. Utøya’s cinematography might not be as polished as a classic movie’s, especially since it relies on a “hand-held” documentary style of camera work, normally used in the horror genre, but especially effective to convey the experience.
If you watched it before, what do you think of the ending?
You can watch Utøya on MUBI.