Rift (Rökkur) is a subtle horror film that explores every nook and cranny of the typical Horror convention, while still remaining a film of its own. We spend much of the film wondering just what shape our foe could take. But all the while we appreciate the journey the film takes us on. The Icelandic countryside is a gorgeous and haunting setting for a film about loss and loneliness.
Months after they broke up, Gunnar receives a strange phone call from his ex-boyfriend, Einar. He sounds distraught, like he’s about to do something terrible to himself. Gunnar drives up to the secluded cabin where Einar is holed up and soon discovers that there’s more going on than he imagined. As the two men come to terms with their broken relationship, some other person seems to be lurking outside the cabin, wanting to get in.
This film is a ballet. It effortlessly weaves between the spooky story it wants to tell us, and the stubborn nature of our complicated characters. There are ghosts to explore, but our heroes force themselves to wallow in the irreparable damage they’ve caused to each other. They languish in the pain of a dead relationship, and we wallow with them; gawking as they pick at a healing scab.
Einar (Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson) is wild, and youthful. But he’s lost. In an effort to get away from it all, he stays at his family’s cabin in a secluded outpost. The terrain is vastly beautiful, but isolating. One night, fuelled by alcohol, loss, or both – he leaves a haunting and slightly foreboding voicemail message with his ex- Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson). It seems there is unfinished business between the two, as even though Gunnar has moved on and is in a new relationship, he races to Einar’s rescue.
When Gunnar arrives, however – Einar seems to be in little distress at all. He chalks the entire phone call up to late-night nerves. Despite the brush-off, Gunnar decides to stay; it’s all under the pretense of a possible burglar or haunting plot, but we know these two have long unfinished business and conversations unsaid.
The tension raises considerably that first night when something real goes bump in the night. Gunnar immediately turns to investigation mode, visiting the cabin’s single neighbour down the lane and exploring an abandoned building not too far. A mysterious child in red appears, but we learn it’s very easy to lose one’s bearings alone in the countryside. Gunnar descends farther and father into the mystery, all while the the slumbered emotions of his and Einar‘s tumultuous past comes to a head.
Rift is a hypnotic film from start to finish. Despite an odd found-footage sequence that loses me a bit near the climax, this film is a chilling drama that kept my focus. Up until the final moments I had no concrete genre for which to pin it down. We all get a little bit lost in Iceland, chasing the ghosts of an unfinished relationship, and something all-together more spooky.
Rift is written and directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen. It stars Bjorn Stefansson, Sigurdor Thor Oskarsson, Gudmundur Olafsson, and Adalbjorg Arnadottir.
Rift premiered at the 40th Göteborg International Film Festival as the festival’s closing film. It won the award for Artistic Achievement at the 2017 Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Best Cinematography at the 20th annual California Independent Film Festival. It is currently playing at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. Additional screenings and festival dates can be found on the film’s website.