Much like his foray into the realm of the slasher flick with Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey), the splendidly named Roar Uthaug shows absolutely no intention of deviating from the conventions of the genre he chooses to delve into here. While this approach worked reasonably well with that first film – a throwback to the likes of Carpenter’s Halloween, refreshingly free of the form’s worst excesses or that smirking self-awareness that made the likes of the Scream series increasingly tiresome. Unfortunately Escape is pretty much hamstrung by its adherence to the conventions of this particular genre.
It may be over eighty years since Count Zaroff unleashed Bunty and Bowser (or whatever he called his hounds) on the trail of Joel McCrae, but the familiar tropes found there remain unaltered. You just know that at some point during the film our hapless quarry will have to contend with crossing a vertiginous ravine by fallen tree or rickety bridge. And when finally cornered will escape by hurling themselves to a certain death (in real life terms) into raging white water or from the top a waterfall. Well, Escape doesn’t disappoint on both counts – which is to say it does.
Set in medieval Norway some years after the country has been ravaged by the plague, the film begins with a family travelling to a new life elsewhere. On route they are waylaid by bandits. The attackers mercilessly set about slaughtering the family until only their young daughter, Signe (an affecting performance by newcomer, Isabel Christine Andreasen), is left. On the orders of the vicious leader Dagmar (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, almost unrecognisable to anyone familiar with her performance in Fritt Vilt) Signe is taken back to the bandits’ camp, her fate and reason for still breathing not at first clear. It is here that she encounters another younger girl called Frigg (Milla Olin). She too appears to have been taken from her family. But where Dagmar treats Signe harshly and remains indifferent to her suffering, her attitude to Frigg is almost motherly.
Signe soon realises what her fate will be and with the assistance of the kindly Frigg, the two girls escape into the forest with a raging Dagmar and her motley crew in hot pursuit. The bandit chief is determined to bring her surrogate daughter back and take her revenge on poor Signe.
It’s an impressive looking film, but with the Norwegian wilderness as a permanent backdrop that’s probably no surprise. As its relatively short running time will attest, it moves along at a fair old pace whilst still giving the actors room to do more than just run about. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is genuinely terrifying as the clearly deranged Dagmar, though as the film progresses and we learn more of Dagmar’s own past she becomes a tragic figure herself. The two young leads are also excellent in debut roles. It’s their plight that is the focus of the story and they are more than up to job.
Promoted as a “Hunger Games meets Mad Max”, it’s nothing of the sort. This is much more of a flight, not fight, to survive. It’s closer in spirit to the final acts of Neil Marshall’s Centurion, Han-Min Kim’s War of the Arrows, or pretty much all of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. The film’s slender plot feels so derivative that even the stronger-than-usual characters can’t make up for the ‘seen it all before’ feeling that pervades so much of the film, and it completely undermines the viewers’ concerns for the girls’ fate.
Director: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Isabel Christine Andreasen
Running time: 78 minutes
Release Date: July 29 2013
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