J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brooklyn Horror ’17: Rift

Seriously, if you had to choose between an axe-murderer and an ex, most of us would take the axe-murderer every time. At least we’d spare ourselves those awkward conversations: “So, how’ve you been? Great, great.” Yet, Gunnar reluctantly trudges out to the remote Icelandic boonies when he gets a distressing call from his former lover. Obviously, there is still unfinished business between them. Perhaps poor Einar is also somewhat predisposed to do something rash. However, Gunnar starts to suspect someone or something sinister could constitute more of a danger to Einar than himself in Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Rift (trailer here), which screens tonight during the 2017 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Apparently, Einar had forgotten about his drunk-dialing incident, because he is genuinely surprised when Gunnar turns up at his family’s cabin. Nobody comes to Rökkur without a darned good reason, but Gunnar starts to wonder if he really had one. Nevertheless, he figures Einar’s squirrely behavior merits a few days’ observation. He becomes legitimately concerned when he learns some kind of stalker-pranker has been harassing Einar with late night door-knocking and window-rattling.

It turns out these rocky windswept fields are riddled with bad karma. One of Einar’s nearest neighbors has a long history of abusing boys. It was also here that Einar nearly perished as a young lad, when his eerily realistic imaginary friend lured him into the wilderness. The imaginary friend presumably went away when Einar’s parents moved them into the city, but the predatory farmer is still there.

Rift is another slow-burning film that derives a lot of its potency from its unsettling ambiguous vibe. Yet, there are moments that are scary as heck. Without question, Rift represents a quantum step up from Thoroddsen’s rather conventional, in-your-face Child Eater. This time around, he generates more scares from what is unseen and implied than from a predictably orderly series of blood-lettings. Still, there is a similar atmosphere of mounting dread, except it is even more pronounced this time around.

As Gunnar and Einar, Björn Stefánsson and Sigurður Þór Óskarsson develop pitch-perfect dysfunctional chemistry together. We completely believe they had to break-up, yet can’t help periodically torturing each other again. They feel real together, unfortunately for the characters.

This is also an unusually accomplished horror film. John Wakayama Carey’s icy cool cinematography heightens the feeling of loneliness and alienation, while Einar Sv. Tryggvason’s minimalist music slowly worms its way under your skin. They are also both so very Nordic, which is important.

Frankly, you could replace the gay lead characters with a straight couple without losing much, but you couldn’t move the film to Los Angeles. From the Eero Saarinen-esque cabin to the desolate landscape suitable for an ECM Record cover, this is definitely a film set in Iceland, at its most Scandinavian. Highly recommended for sophisticated genre fans, Rift screens tonight (10/13) at the Wythe Hotel and tomorrow (10/14) at Video Revival, as part of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

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