Utøya – July 22 by Erik Poppe is a stunning real-time reconstruction of the Norwegian massacre.
Teen Spiritby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Shot in real time and in a single take – taking the same time as the actual Norwegian massacre by Anders Breivik on 22 July 2011 – the film reconstructs the horrific events verité-style.
It’s seen from the viewpoint of Kaya (Andrea Berntzen), a mature, responsible teenager, who has ambitions to be prime minister. The group of teens at the summer camp on the island are shown passing the time, enjoying their day, until suddenly the attack by the gunman starts. It’s something so out of their experience and so out of the blue that at first they can’t comprehend what might be happening. We never actually see him, but we hear gunshots, see trapped young people fleeing for their lives as they start to realised the severity of what’s happening and we follow Kaya and a group of her friends as they try desperately to find a safe hiding place. What they’re hiding from, they don’t exactly know. Because they hear that the gunman is wearing a police uniform, for them what’s happening is even more inexplicable and confusing.
Shot on hand-held camera, strong on urgency and terror, the film is a tour de force though it flags slightly in the middle, It has your heart pounding along with the breathless fugitives’. It’s a visceral experience, and yet what does it tell us that we couldn’t already imagine? It must have been a horrible, terrifying situation, made even worse because it was so sudden and no one knew what was happening. It goes without saying that the reality of teenagers being hunted down, shot and dying, and phoning their parents to say goodbye is shocking.
Norwegian director Erik Poppe has great empathy with his subject and the stunning film is sensitively and respectfully made. Paul Greengross’s film 22 July, released recently too, covers much the same ground though with slightly more context. But neither really adds to our understanding – because nothing can, not even the incarcerated terrorist himself.
Utøya – July 22 is released on 26 October 2018 in the UK.