Film Review: Utøya - July 22


Director: Erik Poppe

15 | 1h 33min | Drama , Thriller | 26 October 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Director Erik Poppe's taught drama recreates - using fictional characters - the terrible armed attack by rightwing terrorist Anders Breivik on 500 youths at a political summer camp on an island outside Oslo back in 2011. Earlier that day Breivik had bombed a Government building in Oslo, but then he made his way to Utøya island to wreak even more bloody havoc. In this first fictional movie about the attack the focus is purely on the terror experienced by the victims; Breivik himself is not seen except as a distant, out-of-focus figure glimpsed now and then by our terrified and constantly on-the-run main character Kaja, who is one of the young teens caught on the island and fears being cut off from her younger sister. Breivik's lack of presence in the film (understandable, given the proximity of the event and the risks of looking like he has earned a platform) means U: July 22 isn't to be taken as a forensic study of the causes and methods of terrorism, but it certainly does the job as a visceral ride into chaos that also salutes, thanks to some fine acting, the fragile but vibrant humanity of the youths who were the targets that day. It won't be for everyone though, as this is a dark viewing experience indeed with an uncompromising approach that will no doubt cause upset.

U: July 22 actually starts a few minutes before the first gun shots ring out, and news of Breivik's earlier attack on the government building is shown zipping across social media and buzzing the news apps of the phones of the relaxed, chatting youths wandering about their campsite. This terror attack took place in the full flowering of the social media and smartphone era, but the resulting gunshots that send the kids scattering from their camping group and into the woods serves to highlight how the fog of war can swiftly overwhelm even this iPhone generation. Most of the kids Kaja encounters, once all hell has broken loose, find no aid in all this interconnectivity whilst they cower in bushes and behind trees, and many have wildly incorrect ideas about what is going on. Some don't even recognise the gunshots as weapon fire; thinking it is a drill. Breivik's location, capabilities and aims remain frighteningly unknown as the massacre plays out. Mostly the killer's presence is heralded not by any sight of him, but by the jump-inducing sudden booms of his firearms ringing out across the island's forests. The camera sticks to Kaja's perspective at all times, unsettling the viewer by limiting vision and audio to her vicinity. Immediacy is heightened by the editing creating the illusion of one unbroken take. A mercilessly effective approach to this grim true story.


Owen Van Spall

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