'Rift': Film Review | Outfest 2017

Rift_Rokkur_Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures
An eerie thriller.

This Icelandic thriller is set at a remote outpost populated by two gay protagonists and some mysterious ghosts.

By now, gay characters and themes have become familiar enough to audiences that it is easy to make a movie centering on gay people where their sexual identity is not the primary issue. This is a refreshing element in one of this year’s Outfest entries, a thriller from Iceland called Rift. The two main characters are gay, but they seem at ease with their sexuality. Their on-again, off-again relationship is one issue they face, but this part of the story would not be much different if they were a straight couple. The main challenge they face is a menacing, invisible force outside their isolated country home. In other words, the pic is primarily a suspense film, with a few horror movie tropes, that just happens to have two gay men as the victims of a mysterious attack.

Gunnar (Bjorn Stefansson) is involved in a new relationship when he receives a late-night call from Einar (Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson), his former boyfriend. Einar is staying at his family home in a remote outpost, and since there seems to be unfinished business between them, Gunnar makes the journey to this distant area. There they rehash some of the unresolved issues in their relationship, reminisce about their childhood experiences, and gradually realize that there may be someone else in this seemingly lonely region. Threatening noises outside the house grow in intensity, and they see a mysterious figure in red who might be a fantasy, but might also be a real intruder.

The film evokes a few classic horror movies. The sound effects recall the unseen forces that threatened the two heroines of Robert Wise’s The Haunting. And the figure in red seems a deliberate reference to the childlike killer in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Like those two films, Rift is more of an atmospheric thriller than a blood-soaked Jason or Freddy movie, though there are a couple of bloody moments as the pic reaches its climax.

The mystery of who is stalking the two men is never definitively resolved, but there are a couple of provocative hints. There might be an old man living nearby who initiated Einar and other boys into sexual activity. Or the red-coated figure could be an incarnation of Einar’s imaginary childhood friend. As we learn more about both men’s history, we discover that each of them experienced traumatic sexual initiations. Gunnar was essentially raped by two older men. So the horror that stalks them now could be a mysterious embodiment of painful past histories that have yet to be exorcised.

The film’s ambiguities can be a little frustrating, and director Erlinger Thoroddsen lets the mystery drag on too long. Tighter editing would have enhanced the film’s effectiveness.  But the cinematography is striking, sound and music are superb and the two leading actors — who carry much of the movie by themselves — both give telling performances. Iceland has produced a few compelling thrillers in recent years, and this has to be counted among the most atmospheric and intriguing.

Production companies: Hero Productions, Myrkraverk Productions
Cast: Bjorn Stefansson, Sigurdor Thor Oskarsson, Gudmundur Olafsson, Adalbjorg Arnadottir
Director-screenwriter: Erlingur Thoroddsen
Producers: Sigurbjorn Bui Baldvinsson, Baldvin Kari, Erlingur Thoroddsen
Executive producers: James Huntsman, Todd Slater
Director of photography: John Wakayama Carey
Production designer: Gunnar Helgi Gudjonsson
Costume designer: Steinunn Erla Thoroddsen
Music: Einar Sv. Tryggvason
Venue: Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

111 minutes