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Opposition is all well and good, but 'Rift' frequently feels at odds with itself.


Fantastic Fest 2017: ‘Rift’ Gets Lost In The Icelandic Countryside

Opposition is all well and good, but ‘Rift’ frequently feels at odds with itself.

A gleaming, modern cabin sits pretty against a landscape as old and grand as time. The call of a broken relationship interrupts the comfortable mechanics of a working one. A romantic melodrama unfurls within the framework of pastoral haunting. A man is haunted by another’s past. The world here is full of opposition, and there is precious little air to breathe. Opposition is all well and good, but Rift frequently feels at odds with itself.

Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson) receives a late-night (drunken and/or spooky) call from his ex, Einar (Sigurður Þór Óskarsson). Worried that Einar might do something drastic, Gunnar hits the road to Rokkur, a small town to which the two had previously vacationed. He arrives, finds Einar in their old rental cabin and reportedly enjoying his alone time, and decides to stick around — ostensibly because Einar seems unstable, but it is by now clear that either Gunnar or the town of Rokkur is very haunted. What is not clear, and never becomes clear, is where reality and psychosis diverge.

Director Erlingur Toroddsen’s main concern throughout Rift is the relationship between these two. It’s a classic odd couple — Gunnar sulks while Einar goofs — and Stefansson and Oskarsson have palpable chemistry. But Thoroddsen’s interest in designing his film as a grim puzzle unfortunately interferes with the protagonists behaving in a relatable way. Every line of dialogue and every drip of the faucet feels portentous, and it is difficult to build human characters in such an environment. In a scene just after the midpoint of the film, the two finally speak candidly, and it comes as a huge relief — but is too little too late.

For most of its runtime, Rift sticks with the relationship drama, interspersing it with some scenes of effective and tense horror, as well as some dreamy, abstract mystery. Though this genre hopping isn’t exactly jarring, the opposing elements never coalesce, and occasionally get in the way of each other. Instead of giving the drama breathing room, or elaborating on the world, Toroddsen tries to fit in more movies. Rift could be a mournful chamber drama about the ways we need each other and how we can so easily hurt each other, or it could be a meditation on depression, told by way of a violent mystery that mirrors that unraveling of a character’s sanity. It also could be a taut, cabin-in-the-woods invasion thriller — and based on the successes on display here, any of these could have been very effective. The final film, in attempting to be many things, loses its focus.

At its best, Rift is intriguing and beautiful, with gorgeous and hypnotic scenery throughout. Shots of Gunnar wandering through the stunning Icelandic countryside as he tries to come to terms with his reality are gripping, and a scene after Gunnar and Einar’s aforementioned conversation employs found-footage technique to stupidly terrifying ends. The few interjections by supporting characters provide welcome color, deepening this world’s charming strangeness; at its worst, Rift is melodramatic and trite, undermining its unsettling atmosphere with overdone horror symbolism and unlikely conversations. The story doesn’t offer any sort of satisfying conclusion, and leaves the impression that it doesn’t feel one is owed. But Toroddsen has made something genuine, and his skills are undeniable. His actors sell the material they are given, but without a cohesive story, all that remains is tension, depression, and no resolution.

Fantastic Fest runs September 21st – 28th. Visit the festival’s official website.

Written By

Emmet Duff is a small town Ohioan living in Austin, TX. When he's not writing about film, he cares for plants, takes pictures, and goes exploring.

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