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LGBT theme and horror film face a problematic “Rift”

Movies with a LGBT theme have come quite a long way from the low-budget, coming out, relationship angst films that we have seen since the early 80’s. Horror movies for the LGBT audience are still struggling to find their feet in the US, however movies that have come from some foreign countries have made some considerable advances, most recently that being Alena from Sweden and the Hitchcockian styled thriller B&B from the UK. Now we get a new entry from a country that most Americans, or followers of either horror or the more “mainstream” LGBT films, would not expect. From Iceland comes the movie Rökkur (which means “Twilight”), or Rift as it is referred to here.

The film starts at a simple little party where Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson) bumps in to his ex-boyfriend, Einar (Sigurður Þór Óskarsson). There is some discomfort at their reunion, but they part company as friends. Then, in the middle of the night, Gunnar receives what sounds like a distressing phone call from Einar, as if he was about to do something terrible to himself, which causes Gunnar to make an hours long journey in the dead of night across the Icelandic country, in the winter no less, to the house that Einar’s family owns (where Einar is staying). Along the journey we get only the briefest of glimpses of a stranger and his truck on the side of the road, which is clearly meant to serve as a hint of some dark things to come. Once Gunnar and Einar are together (Einar’s parents are away) the story delves in to the nature of their relationship, all the while something nefarious seems to be lurking nearby.

I was very excited to see this movie. All of the elements were there. This is a foreign film from a country whose cinema I have never experienced, it had a very prominent LGBT theme (as opposed to the somewhat more underplayed Alena), and it’s a horror film. From the onset this movie started to take me into some unusual directions, from the breadcrumbs of bad things to come with Gunnar’s drive to find Einar, all the way through the relationship between these two men. Unfortunately it didn’t completely come together for me.

Watching this movie I got the distinct impression that there were two stories here, the first being a feature length tale about this “ex-couple,” and all of the issues that broke up their relationship, and the second being the horror story that could have made for a very strong short film. The larger element of this movie was riveting in of its own. This is the kind of story that should be in mainstream LGBT cinema as it deals with the breakup of a couple who clearly loved each other, and the problems that can arise when one has moved on, but the other has not. The dynamics between these two actors were so powerful that I could not take my eyes off of either them, not because they could be considered GQ material, but because of the truthfulness in their performances. The story arc we get here takes no short cuts. It felt totally believable to the point where when I got to the film’s final act I found myself actually rooting for them to reconcile. They belonged together despite whatever personal issues they allowed to get in the way. Then there is the horror element. As beautiful and compelling as the LGBT story of this movie was, so was the horror. The only problem was there wasn’t enough of it. When it did show up it was quite unnerving (my favorite type of horror). We get these little moments that feel they come straight out of an episode of Twilight Zone, but they never find any sort of resolution. When Gunnar has an unusual encounter with only the voice of a young boy, I expected there to be some payoff that would at least attempt to explain the nature of what is happening to these two men. We also are revisited by that stranger with the truck from early in the movie, as he makes several more mysterious appearances throughout the film, and while those moments are unbelievably tense and nerve-wracking, they suddenly just stop. Even when there is more story to tell, each of these moments need their own mini resolution to bring the viewer back to the realities that Gunnar and Einar are dealing with. Instead the movie jarringly takes us out of the horror and drops us back into the relationship between Gunnar and Einar. Then, in the final moments of the movie, the stranger, and the threat he carries, are fully revealed, and yet we never receive any explanation as to who this man is, why he is acting out in this manner. The story thread with the man, as well as some of the spooky goings on near Einar’s home, never comes together in any satisfying manner.

There is no denouement to this movie, which sadly only heightens the feeling of disconnectedness between the two aspects of this film. It never delivers one cohesive story, and for me that is the greatest tragedy because I desperately wanted to love ALL of this film. The cinematography is stark, and yet beautiful. The acting between Stefánsson and Óskarsson is absolutely unbelievable, and while I loved the isolated horror moments when they did come up, if there is anything to recommend this movie it would have to be the acting between our two leading men. Their performances went beyond anything conventional and for me actually became haunting. I find myself actually hoping that they’ll act together again (apparently they both appeared on a TV series titled Case, but I don’t know if they actually worked together) because of the strength of their on-screen chemistry. They, and the few moments of deliciously unsettling horror, are the selling points to this movie. Unfortunately those points did not combine together to make one equally great film.

I give this movie 2.5 out of 5 stars.
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