Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson) and Einer (Sigurður Þór Óskarsson) used to be lovers, now they are practically strangers. Months after an odd encounter at a party, Gunnar is woken in the middle of the night by a call from a very drunk and frightened Einer. Afraid that Einer will do something terrible, Gunnar races to the cabin that was home to happier times for the couple. Once there, he starts to reconnect with his ex, but as skeletons are unveiled, things start to take on a sinister tone.
Rift, or Rökkur as it is known in its native Icelandic tongue, is a slow-burning and atmospheric drama with some elements of horror scattered throughout. A good three quarters of the movie deals with the relationship – or lack thereof – between Gunnar and Einer. The majority of the run time plays as a relationship drama and one could be easily forgiven for not realising that this is technically classed as a genre film. The viewer is drawn into the dynamic between the estranged lovers so deeply that you completely forget about anything other than the two of them. This shows a great deal of skill from director Erlingur Thoroddsen; even more skill is subsequently displayed when the tone shifts into the more traditional horror story. Everything builds so beautifully slowly that you don’t even realise where things are going, and then suddenly you get sucker-punched with a sequence that makes your blood run cold. This writer genuinely got chills, and was thoroughly uncomfortable, not something that happens easily. It’s a very visual moment, and one that I’m sure will haunt me in the nights to come.
A film with a stripped back cast obviously needs great actors, and thankfully with Stefánsson and Óskarsson, Rift excels. This is a solid two-hander with both actors giving their all and finding a wealth of depth and emotion within their characters. It’s clear that the pair have both worked very hard to bring their characters to life, and both Gunnar and Einer are fully realised. Both are broken in different ways allowing our cast to show a great breadth of emotions, something lacking in your typical genre fare.
Outside of the cabin and the relationship, are stunning visuals. Rift was filmed on location underneath a volcanic glacier and on top of a lava field. It’s a feast for the eyes and an opportunity to see a landscape rarely seen on screen. The greys and browns compliment stand out against the blue skies and the dull scenery helps Gunnar, and especially Einer whom is clad in a bright red jacket, pop out from their surroundings. The score is subtle and simple, a blend of piano and strings that imbues extra tension into the piece.
A slow, subtle, and at times sensual, study into relationships – how they change and the ghosts of the past, Rift is a masterstroke in how to take the viewer by surprise. Come for the eventual scare, but also whisked away by the compelling performances by Stefánsson and Óskarsson.
This review first appeared on THN. Rift is currently available on Amazon Prime Video UK.