In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

EVIL Exploits Your Fears in “Phobic” reviewed! (Samuel Goldwyn Films / Digital Screener)

The most vulnerable are being chained to chairs and tortured by the terrifying weight of their own extreme phobias until their bodies can no longer take the stress, fatally collapsing where they sit due to heart failure.  Homicide detective Riley Sanders notices frightening similarities to her own abduction months earlier where the kidnapper tortures the stunned detective with an intense light on repeater.   Refusing to believe her abduction and the case she’s investigating are linked, her partner, Paul Carr, continues to insist that her traumatic experience might be key to solving the homicides and finding the killer.  As the detectives dig deeper into a radical psychiatrist’s phobia program whose patients are showing up the killer’s victim list, they find themselves at the center of a disturbing experiment that aims unleash an inner, and only ever theorized, phenomenal ability.

Bryce Clark’s psychological cop thriller, “Phobic,” tales an irregular and irrational serial killer objective derivative of David Fincher’s “Seven” twisted quietly with elements from the superhero universe. Darkly toned exploitation of forcing the worst of the worst fears upon the those already cripple down by their distinct aversion, the 2017 shot “Phobic” marks the return of a Clark written and directed full length feature since the filmmaker’s 2012 debut in both categories with a romantic-comedy starring Mischa Barton.  Both polar opposite films were shot on location in Salt Lake City, Utah, Clark’s residential city, surrounded by picturesque ice capped mountains overlooking the illuminated, pedestrian-saturated metropolitan area home to the story’s wicked psychotronic experiment that literally frightens people to death.  “Phobic’ is a production of Storylab and Pale Moon Entertainment.

Two detectives continue to peel back the arcane layers of the unusual case before them with detective Riley Sanders at the heart of the matter being linked to the recent string of methodical abductions tailored specifically with the victim.  “Looking Glass” actress Jacque Gray dichotomizes Riley not only as a persistent investigator eager to bring this case to an end but also as a struggling closeted neurotic with her own fears that bleed through the celluloid.  Clark makes sure to underscore Riley’s nightly routine before going to bed with her constantly turning on and off lights in her path to represent a lingering but indeterminate phobia response.  Riley is supposed to be this tough, but law abiding cop, who survived a harrowing ordeal, but Gray hardly expresses Riley’s scarred rigid soul, representing more so in the lines of coloring her disposition by the numbers that refuse to waiver outside normalcy.  Devin Liljenquist is even more so vanilla as Riley’s partner, Paul.  As his introductory feature film, Liljenquist’s doesn’t carry the range of a cop who cares, topping out with a straight-faced sleepwalk that challenges the stakes and can be considerably creepy, like subtly sexual grooming predator, when Paul is trying to convince Riley to open her fears with him.  The character audiences deserved, or better suited as Riley’s partner to provide contrast, would have been the third scarcely screened detective on the case that occasionally popped in as the first investigator on scene of a crime in Alex Nibley’s Detective Hank Ferry.  The slightly elder detective, complete with Nibley’s stark white, Anderson Cooper hairstyle, had a quick, dark wit and cavalier presence about him that breached the Riley and Paul uncharismatic stiffness with a relieving change of pace dynamics between colleagues.  You couldn’t wait to see Detective Ferry to make a reappearance, but sadly, his character is sorely underutilized for only a couple of moments.  “Phobic’s” in-and-out supporting cast includes James Jamison, Tiffani DiGregorio, Fred Spencer, and Ernie Lively as Riley Sanders secret-keeping father.

“Phobic” follows a basic detective thriller in tracking down a homicidal maniac with a niche kill tactic that bread crumbs one of the investigating officers into being subverted by a conflict of interest stemmed from her past. However, out of Salt Lake City’s blue skies, Clark suddenly pivots in his script, diverting from a dark, gritty Finchian narrative to an acutely forged new shape of revival and hope, a shape that bares no cape, no mask, or no bald, psychic power yielding man bound to a wheelchair playing headmaster of a school that serves as a façade for an elite team of powerful, do good mutants. If my hint wasn’t overly blunt, let me be utterly clear, “Phobic” has no distinct x-factor but goes from fears to fight with the psychotronic theory where energy and strength derive from stress and fear over the witnessing the impending doom of a loved one. Urban legend surrounding the notion of hysterical strength siphons away the psychosomatic element from the grooves of the cop thriller and Clark copiously throws in crucial red herrings to keep viewers muddling and not Professor X cerebral filling in the gaps unraveling an unlikely and unrealistic prospect of superhuman truth, but “Phobic’s” off-the-cuff pivot is a quick to squander all that’s been built in what’s essentially Bryce Clark’s house of cards to discombobulate an audience with polarizing story principles, rebranding an assayed horror-thriller into rabid conceit.

 

Easily one of the most idiosyncratic and unanticipated films of 2020, “Phobic” induced fear into audiences panic-stricken hearts this past December 15th onto multiple digital platforms courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, the distributor that brought you “Daniel Isn’t Real” and “Pet.” Brandon Christensen’s tenebrous cinematography is shot on a 6k red epic dragon with ultra definition displaying full range of details in every scene and despite the somber tones created by a slew of gaffer up lighting, we get some really rich natural coloring, even in the baby blue eyes of Ernie Lively, when Christensen isn’t blue or red tinting the lens to underscore the killer’s aftermath crime scene. While the cinematography is good, the editing can be pestilent expression of style to represent Riley’s sporadic and continuous reliving of a reoccurring memory. The stock score is just that set on autoplay for nearly the length of the 81 minute runtime with engineered eruptions in the pitch to denote the jump scares. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The bland acting hurts “Phobic’s” exploration of the psychological symbiotic energies between that of the mind and body, but the film boils down to have a fascinating perspective on the detective thriller by reshaping the surface with bold expectations of an uncharacteristic, dormant fear free all.

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When The Waters Rush In, It’s the EVIL in Your Head That’ll Kill You. “Relentless” reviewed! (Terror Films / Digital Screener)

Jennifer Benson’s life is a storybook fairytale that’s embraced by her close sister, exalted by a sweet, kind husband, and excited with the news of an upcoming baby. Yet, all good things come to an end and in Jennifer’s case, in a devastating tragedy when everything and everyone she held close to her heart is unexpectedly wiped away within a single year. Physically injured and suffering from depression, Jennifer withdraws from family and friends inside an empty house, sinking lower into despondency, and letting bills and the house upkeep slip through the seemingly insignificant cracks. Jennifer eventually decides climb up a little out of her rut by cleaning up and letting go of some sentimental materials that leave painful memories by storing them in the unfinished basement, but when the basement door jams and won’t open, Jennifer finds herself trapped in a subterranean state with a large thunderstorm dumping rain that’s seeping from the basement walls, plumbing, and the ground. As the torrential rain continues to fall, the water level continues to rise with no way out.

Get ready to hold your breath in Barry Andersson’s agog of metaphorical poignant survival, “Relentless.” The filling of the fish tank mender is the director’s first and only release of 2020, following his 2019 releases of the historical drama, “The Lumber Baron,” and a 1940’s set sleep deficient thriller, “The Soviet Sleep Experiment.” Andersson continues to tell stories of intricately varied human responses as the filmmaker pens “Relentless” surrounded by themes of reactionary and recovery paths toward death with the film echoing more so with Andersson’s introductory “The Lumbar Baron” on a much smaller scale in terms of cast and setting. The story is set in or near Minnesota, a Midwest state prone to some of the United States worst flash flooding hit areas, and Andersson crafts his creative juices with that in mind to mold a symbolic cognitive descension stemmed by escapism inside creature comforts. Deodand Entertainment and Andersson’s filmic workshop company, Mogo Media, designate as the production companies.

“Relentless” indurates around being a one woman show with Rachel Weber spearheading the subject of crippled and downcast Jennifer Benson. Weber, whose worked briefly with Barry Andersson in “The Soviet Sleep Experiment,” has to operate Jennifer animatedly in a near voiceless, tacit role to simulate one alone with their thoughts and emotions. Only flashbacks limn with dialogue present the state of Jennifer’s woebegone mind as she goes from despair to reluctant acceptance by reopening the wound of concealed painful memories. Weber fulfills every inch of empty space with a tinge sorrow in some way, shape, or form but doesn’t quite convey the impact well enough to fortitude a presence. Weber’s post-flashback expressions deflect the corpus theme with no real tell of how Jennifer actually feels as she stands over a box full of memorabilia of what should be inducing whether a pensive sadness or vitalizing inspiration as she goes through an unbalanced reel of memories that include bedroom book snuggles with her sister at young age or survival life lessons with her father to up at the moment of what was supposed to be a joyous baby shower occasion that turns unexpectedly into tragic point in her life. Though the story acutely restricts the camera on Weber, the unfolding flashbacks ultimately tell the story from the past that includes stint performances from Charles Hubbell (“The Bitch That Cried Wolf”), Anna Hickey, Bea Hannahan, and Presley Grams.

“Relentless” has thought-provoking messages splayed up, down, and all around it’s encased four-walled theme of, literally, drowning in your own self pity and digging yourself out of a hole of depression. The water that gushes into the air tight unfinished basement represents the rising fathoms of depression that initially trickle in harmlessly enough, but the longer the despair drips go unchecked, as noted when Jennifer reaches out to nobody up on the top floors of her house and would rather recap wedding photos in the first act, the more intense the cascades can become when your submerged in from head to toe. Along Jennifer’s rather stagnant perilous journey, sitting on top of work benches as a hapless invalid and rummaging through miscellaneous items, she opens and goes through various storage boxes of her past that she carefully tries to keep dry by continuously moving the boxes out from the low-lying waters. Each box evokes a single memory from her past fashioned in an unchronological order and stews in a melting pot of stirred emotions that work backwards from melancholy to hope to, eventually, in my opinion, an inescapable suicide. My subjective take on Barry Andersson’s open-ended culmination is purely speculative as Jennifer’s struggles for survival may all be for naught, even in the evidence of the character leaving behind a note for storm survivors, or whomever, to collect staggering into what could be Jennifer’s tomb strongly suggests that particular path. That’s what admirable about intense thrillers, such as “Relentless,” that teases an unwritten coda for those to survive and tell the rest of the story, woven with their own personal singularities, but Andersson’s film, heavy in metaphors, lacks spirited vitality in a somber stroll through what’s innately a human fear: death.

Basements continue to retain their bad rap in the traditional horror sense as well as in Terror Films’ release of Barry Andersson’s survive-or-die succumbing to mopery in “Relentless,” distributed digitally across multiple platforms. Rigorous self preservation might be watered down, but the stagecraft and production design is top shelf quality with a simple set of a well dressed dank and bare basement where streams of water rush into from the barred awning windows and waterlogged plumbing. The basement in itself is a character of misfortune, a cell of rehabilitation, and is just simply effective in a cinematic sense without seeming overly menacingly but rather like every other basement in the world. With the digital screener, there were no bonus material included nor any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t expect a nonstop nail-biter that aims to fill your lungs with asphyxia inhaled water; instead, sympathy or empathy will play significantly in “Relentless'” success with an aggregating flurry of thoughts generator in a post-traumatic vicissitude.

“Relentless” included with Prime Video and available for purchase!

When EVIL Isn’t That Black & White. “Choir Girl” reviewed! (Nexus Production Group / Digital Screener)

Eugene lives a lonely, pitiable existence.  Residing with his ailing father in a slum neighborhood, his photography background captures the crime and the desolation that surrounds him, snapping pictures without ever interceding with his crime-riddled subjects, in an attempt to hold an exhibition or sell his work to a high profile magazine, Slipstream, as his ticket out of the despair that engulfs him.  When Eugene stumbles upon young teenage girls being drugged and held for prostitution, he becomes fixated on Josephine when a low-level editor, seeing her as a professional stepping stone, prods him for more pictures that evoke hope out of her situation, but when he finally intervenes, helping her escape, Eugene falls into a world of a massive prostitution ring with doctors, cops, and major organizations on the payroll and a kingpin named Daddy at the helm.  The deeper the debt placed upon him for showing compassion to Josephine, the more the lines blur on whether he’s become his muse’s lone savior or just his meal ticket out his current life.

How far will your moral principles take you to save a teenage girl when you’re locked into a no-win situation?  That’s the theme explored to a shocking sexual assault conclusion in John Fraser’s 2019 unscrupulous Australian thriller, “Choir Girl.”  Introducing Fraser’s first credited written and directed full length feature film, shot entirely in black and white, the Melbourne arthouse and a goose egg-fairytale version of “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes toward the perceived illegality of immigration, the horrors of sex-trade, and the touch-and-go balance act between doing what’s right and self-serving opportunities with a 15-year old girl’s fate dangling at the end of a line.  “Choir Girl” is produced by Ivan Malekin under his Melbourne based label, Nexus Production Group, along with Lucinda Bruce serving as co-producer.

To carry “Choir Girl” through the muck of it all, a strong performance must arduously burden the gravity of the content and Peter Flaherty astounds with an ingloriously flawed and unlikely hero, Eugene.  “The Butcher Possessions” and “KIllervision” actor masts a greasily haggard with bordering neurodevelopment issues, disheveled in his attire, and walks with a noticeable limp, made intentionally noticeable when as he walks away from characters and situations.  Though Eugene seems meek, the shutterbug aches to improve himself by seemingly exploiting others as a freelance photographer and being persistent in that pursuit until becoming engrossed into a 15-year-old prostitute’s life struggle blossoming before our eyes a rather unsettling grown man and teenage girl relationship that assumes a pedophilia ideology of adoring the child to the extent of protection, but also falls in to grooming and sexual exploitation.  The film introduces audiences to Sarah Timm, playing Eugene’s muse, Josephine, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who literally has nothing left that is her own, this including her body, when forced into sex slavery so when Eugene and other characters call her diminutively by Jo, she immediately corrects them to call her Josephine in order to keep the one thing left that is still hers, her name.  In her first feature role, and a mightily demanding role it is with the amount of discomfiture of playing essentially an abused child, the German native will have audiences overlooking the fact that she’s portraying a teenager in the sordid sultriness of sex-trafficking with crafting Josephine’s war-torn history and pre-adolescent childhood stories as always the girl in the background, the unpretty forgotten girl that blended in and no one noticed, until she’s a part of a much larger, more ferocious, uncompromising system that Daddy (Jack Campbell) dictates with CCTV live feeds of every sleazy, scummy hotel bedroom in his syndicated footprint.  The cruelty that Jack Campbell reins savors every facet of Daddy’s being on screen with an intent to be a immovable roadblock in Eugene’s advanced for progress and for John Fraser’s “Choir Girl,” the character development and personalities find justification from the cast with the exception of one, the low on the totem pole and self-absorbed Slipstream magazine editor, Polly.  Krista Vendy imposes on Polly’s rabid  narcissism with an incredibility that becomes the underbelly amongst a bloc of solid performances.  Andy McPhee (“Wolf Creek”), Lee Mason (“The Caretaker”), Jillian Murray (“Body Melt”), and Kym Valentine fill out supporting roles. 

I love the juxtaposition opening of Eugene in his dark room in the middle of photographic processing his oblivious subjects, including a drug abusing child with a hypodermic heroine needle sticking out of his arm, a blowjob being serviced between a wall and bushes, or the aftermath of man being beaten with his assailants walking away from his leveled body, and then the title fades in from black and the next scene is of a framed magazine cover with the cover title “It’s All Back and White.”  The sequence sets up perfectly the entire premise driving “Choir Girl’s” gray area circumstances that nothing substantial, meaningful, or controversial can be black and white. Plus, the entire film is shot in black and white furthering the contrivance of the theme. The gray area challenging Eugene is a tightrope walk when squeezed for payment for snatching Josephine by the amoral organization claiming property theft, making him submit to the idiom of pulling his strings like a marionette or shooting at his feet to make him dance for insatiable perverse satisfaction. Eugene rarely displays remorse in his demeanor, face, or actions for the things he does and doesn’t do when faced with adversity in a slither of sociopathic idiosyncrasy, but when outright criticized for his inaction, he’s able to right wrongs with deplorable methods like a toddler trying to mop up a grape juice spill with mother’s expensive, white dress. There’s a bit of innocence or naivety in Eugene’s mind as you can almost see the gears slowly spinning when confronted but in the defense of the man who no really gave the time of day, those gyrating mice wheels of delicate thought snuck past every contingency against Eugene surviving Daddy’s deadly game, leading to an unsavory solution that puts the viewer in an awkward spot to either avert the eyes or remained captivated to see it through.

 

I, for one, remained seated, steadfast to the end, hypnotized by audacity of John Fraser in his feature film directorial, “Choir Girl,” that has arrived onto Apple’s iTunes. The unrated film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of a widescreen format and will have an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound availability. Though derided as kitschy at times, the black and white veneer works here inside “Choir Girl’s” vascular system of catch-22s and director of photography, Mark Kenfield, rides a consistent straighten arrow style with steady cam shots, decent framing, and some tracking shots without pushing the envelope in regards to angles or oscillation. There were no bonus content or additional scenes during or after the credits. “Choir Girl” sings no praises of hallelujah. Offers no solace in time of hardship. If you’re looking for a movie that touches you, then you’re in for a rude awakening as “Choir Girl” obliterates the moral standards, leaving faith outside, with a severe penance in abetting the Devil’s work, selling their soul to do what’s right.

The Bends Can Be EVILLY Depressurizing. “Breaking Surface” reviewed! (Music Box Films / Digital Screener)

Two half-sisters, Ida, and Tuva, return home to spend time with their mother, preparing for a family dive in the frigid Norwegian waters near an isolated rock cliff.  When the mother withdraws because of her health, the sisters embark without her.  When a sudden rockslide traps Tuva, also the more experienced diver, between a rock and a hard place Ida must race against the clock to free her from being pinned to the bottom floor before viable air runs out, but with most of their gear under the rockslide rubble on the topside and only a few usable spare air tanks available, Ida, paying no heed to decompression sickness with her hasty reoccurring ascents to the surface, will do whatever it takes save her sister, even if that means being detrimental to her own life.

Scandinavian filmmaking has always been in this personally dissatisfying commercial stasis of public recognition oversight for years even though there are a number of projects, birthed from Sweden or Norway, that have the budget for success, compelling storytelling, and still fly shamefully under the radar and most audiences, speaking more for the U.S. based general admission moviegoers, don’t ever get the chance to experience without the bombardment of marketing or, perhaps more so, they intentionally skip over to titles with, who in large popcorn and soda glazed eyes, are well-known, recognizable thespian faces, or maybe a trailer they’ve seen during their morning daily talk shows and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” or for the worst reason of all, the subtitles are a big deterrent since Scandinavian films are in Scandinavian languages, but one of those films that depicts the immense Baltic beauty landscape but can also be edgy with touch of sensationalism is Joachim Hedén’s “Breaking Surface.” The director’s fourth feature length film in 2020 is woman versus nature, time versus the elements, when scuba diving hits direly rock bottom. Hedén wrote the film that’s presented by a Swedish and Norway co-production of companies, including Water Feature Films in association with Film i Väst, Film i Skåne, Umedia, Filmfond Nord, Sveriges Television, and Weggefilms. Julia Gebauer and Jonas Sörensson serve as producers.

At the core of the diving mishap are two sisters, Ida and Tuva. Half-sisters to be exact that are written with tremendous interfamily complexities because of their mother remarries Tuva’s father angle plus incorporating their own personal hang ups in adulthood with the genesis of their problem is stuck in the past. “Breaking Surface” is a woman domineered thriller, challenging the stereotyped patriarch activities of men and, to an extent, whatever role that is inhabited by a man is exhibited in not a good light. It’s reminiscent of the “47 Meters Down” films in more ways than one with scuba diving and an inclination for female principle characters dealing on hand with the cards dealt together to survive the elemental odds. Moa Gammel and Madeleine Martin play the respective leads of older sister Ida in the midst of divorce proceedings that comes complicated with two small children and has mother issues that she projects onto her younger half-sister, Tuva, who lives at the top of the food chain fearlessly and isn’t grounded by anyone, anything, or anywhere. Gammal and Martin instill into their characters a reaffirmations of their talents with Ida being a more recreational diver whereas Tuva lives and breaths underwater professionalism. This dynamic unfolds nicely when Tuva is trapped under a rockslide and her older sister has to be instructed, painfully detail-by-detail, what to do. At times, Ida is a character at a point of collapse because of how overly incompetent she can seem with no-brainer solutions; yet, this is where I believe Hedén to excel at scribing realism because no matter how frustrating can Ida’s actions be, any situation under that much pressure (pun intended) can discombobulate the mind, body, and senses. If my sister was trapped under a rock at the bottom of the sea floor, my id would explode and she would asphyxiate and drown before I could compute the situation. Yet, Ida comes around in her arc, completing more confidently and independently the challenges that face her despite their increase in difficult and severity with only minor eye-rolling cringes loitering in and between the second and third acts.

“Breaking Surface” is a modestly paced film with a slim runtime of 82 minutes that captures the entire trialing day odyssey of conquering nature, time, and death while decompressing fraught mental retentions of estranged sister and motherhood, parroting life circumstances, and a past event parallel that’s nearly paralyzing. As much as underwater thrillers excite as one of my personal favorite subgenres, there are downsides to “Breaking Surface” timing that felt limitless when Ida struggles to regain control from failure-after-failure of hopeless rescue endeavors of the most easiest of solution routes, but when the older sister resurfaces from below for a second time, a quick lap to a neighbors house didn’t quite jive with time and space, especially when the Sweden-residing Ida has to frantically read a map of a near alien Norwegian coastal topography. Miraculous, Ida is able to arrive at her destination, rustle about an absent homeowner’s isolated cabin for internet, phone, or an essential tool, and be back in half hour to scuba back down again toward her sister. I would imagine the series of event would have been on the better part of an hour, but what do I know about Norwegian landscapes? On the topic of knowing stuff, since I’m not a diving expert or aficionado, Hedén, in my eye, was able to sell explaining scuba diving jargon and actions with brief but natural expositions that forms innately with Ida’s recreational side of the activity. While not as tenderly macabre as “Let the Right One In” nor as wonderfully gory as the inane undead Nazi horror, “Dead Snow,” “Breaking Surface” is an oxygenated subaquatic air gasper tussling with submerged phrenic psychological and physical problems of two sisters trying desperately to save their frayed relationship.

 

As breathtaking as the Scandinavian artic north coastlines are, the icy waters of “Breaking Surface” will definitely take your breath away as an exhilarating underwater survive the clock time chaser. Arriving on VOD platforms on December 15 courtesy of Music Box Films under their Doppelganger Releasing banner, the film will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and in a Norwegian and Swedish language 5.1 surround sound with optional English subtitles. Anna Patarakina’s nominal two-tone cinematography induces a steely gray and blue cold environment of Scandinavian’s artic snow covered north. Patarakina captures the immense grandiose of Norway’s Lofoten’s mountains of serenity encircling their imminent, uncertain fate. Eric Börjeson joins the crew as the director of photography underwater and Börjeson, whose credits include “Let the Right One In (that unforgettable pool scene), keeps the shots tight from wandering beyond the cobalt blue, almost black, waters, fulfilling a nerve-splintering sense of disorientation. There were no bonus features included with this release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits, but I did find Juliet Simms’ “100 Little Deaths” to be a great rock-n-roll outro singled to signify the multiple possibilities the two sisters could have met their maker. “Breaking Surface” flurries with a cliffhanging suspense in an extreme counterpart of blending family therapy with acute disaster that brings two incongruous sisters back into restored harmony.