Utoya: July 22 – LFF Film Review

This seems to happen all the time in Hollywood, but there are currently two films about the 2011 Norway attacks coming out at the same time – one by Paul Greengrass (22 July) that just hit Netflix, and this Norwegian film by Erik Poppe.

In case you need a recap – on 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik set off a car bomb near a government building in Oslo and then made his way to a youth summer camp organised by the Labour Party on the island of Utoya, where he went on a shooting spree, killing 69 people and injuring hundreds more. The film, which is shot in a single take in real time, follows Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) as she is caught up in the tragedy and desperately looking for her sister Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Muller Osbourne).

The emergency services weren’t prepared for such an attack, so the campers were on their own for 72 minutes before help arrived. Capturing the massacre in real time is a perfect idea because it shows viewers how things went down and how long they had to wait – the film is 90 minutes long as it obviously needs to establish characters before the attack begins.

Shooting it in a handheld single take style was the right move, because it puts you right in the middle of the action. You feel like you are there with Kaja, you are running beside her and ducking behind tents, and it feels more immediate and visceral because it doesn’t let up. There are no obvious edits so your focus is solely on Kaja and what’s happening.

Breivik’s name is never referred to and I approve of this. The gunman only ever appears as a figure in the background – you never see his face or anything. This film is focused solely on the victims, not about him. He doesn’t get the glory of a film being made about him. Utoya stars fictional characters but they are based on genuine accounts from survivors and we meet a lot of them on Kaja’s journey. This isn’t some glamorised Hollywood dramatisation that shows the shooting spree itself; this is a gritty, realistic film that places itself in the position of most of the campers – hiding, running and frantically trying to figure out what’s going on and how best to survive.

Berntzen is fantastic. The camera is up in her face and on her the whole time. To convey the panic, the trauma and the desperation of trying to find her sister and figure out her next move is hard enough, let alone in a film like this where the camera is there the whole time and shot in incredibly long takes. She is our eyes into this tragedy, we see it from her perspective, and we are championing her to survive.

There are a couple of moments were the tension lags a little, but generally Utoya is a gripping, shocking film that places you firmly on the ground with the campers. I haven’t seen Greengrass’ Netflix film so I cannot compare, but I know it has a closer look at Breivik and includes his trial, so I don’t believe it can be as powerful, intense and moving as this.

Seen as part of the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. Set for a limited cinema release on 26th October. 

 

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