Norwegian cinema has been consistent over the last few years with generous, genre-abundant offerings to the silver screen. We have had a taste of Norwegian horror with Rare Exports, fantasy with Troll Hunter and Thale, the crime thriller with Headhunters and now we have a another genre shift, this time to the historical thriller with Roar Uthaug’s Escape – a post-apocalyptic, fast-action tale of hunter and prey set in the year 1363.
In Norway in the years following the Black Plague, after much of the population has died a gruesome death, society has been reduced to poverty and is forced to find the will to survive. Signe (Isabel Christine Andreasen) and her family, homeless and impoverished by hard times, travel along the open road in search of a new home. As they decide to settle for the night, a gang of vicious outlaws led by the merciless Dagmar (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) slaughter Signe’s parents and brother and drag her off to their camp in the mountains. Signe soon learns that Dagmar has some sinister plans for her and with the help of Dagmar’s little protégé Frigg (Milla Olin) she strives to escape, with the barbarians in hot pursuit.
Escape is reminiscent of many films and is certainly not short of some fierce action: think The Hunger Games and The Road with a peppering of Mad Max and it certainly has strong links with 1987’s Oscar-nominated Pathfinder (Veiviseren). The film works as a bleak and uncertain glimpse into a troubled time but its main weakness is a lack of historical explanation. Instead it chooses to focus on how its female protagonists are caught up in the uncompromising after-effects of the plague, allowing a powerful feminist thread to run through the film. However whilst this is engaging to watch, the plot still remains a simple ‘hunter seeks prey’ story. Escape has a solid cast and their chemistry shows in the flawless performances. Isabel Christine Andreasen is wonderful in her acting debut as the innocent girl forced to toughen up to fight her way out of a desperate situation and her performance is complimented by the sweetness of Mila Olin as little Frigg. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, also seen in this year’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is quite unrecognisable as the hard and troubled Dagmar, giving an incredibly believable and somewhat frightening performance alongside her band of macho savages and Tobias Santelmann as Arvid, her love interest and better side of her conscience. Escape’s greatest strength however is the changing Norwegian backdrop, flitting between unwelcoming, desolate plains and enchanting landscapes of waterfalls and mountains. This is an ever changing land, beautiful but dangerous as the arrows fly and you never know what is around the next corner.
Escape does not match the success of Troll Hunter or Headhunters but it is certainly another strong and brave attempt at a very different genre. It does makes you wonder just what Norwegian cinema will pull out of the bag next.