Pale Star


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Pale Star
"A thrillingly cinematic film."

Set amidst the almost monochrome ashen landscape of southern Iceland, Pale Star is an eerie and chilling film whose icy and sulphuric atmosphere gets right under the skin to leave your bones chattering. It may prove challenging for some, with a distinct lack of dialogue or exposition leaving much of the film’s plot shrouded in mystery, though the first scene gives away plenty clues for the alert viewer as to how the terror will unfold.

Solveig lives in isolation in the bleakest of Icelandic landscapes, and has volunteered to keep an eye on tourists who venture into this barren wilderness. At the beginning of the film we witness a fierce argument between her and her husband, which doesn’t end particularly well for him. With no subtitles to provide clues, the content of their argument is unclear. However when Scottish tourist Molly stumbles into Solveig’s home after escaping the clutches of her rapist husband Kurt, Solveig confides that she has found a fellow victim and appears to offer her comfort and shelter. At first.

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When Kurt is brought to Solveig’s home too, by Ari, a local shop keeper who has struck up a relationship with Solveig, the tone darkens. Solveig’s apparent solidarity with the battered and abused Molly becomes overbearing, and murderous, and the Scottish tourists soon find themselves fighting for their lives. It is only at this point that the film’s horror credentials become apparent, with a hint of Polanski’s Repulsion in the psychological torment of its female lead.

This is Scottish writer and director Graeme Maley’s debut feature, but he brings to the project a wealth of experience from his background in the theatre. He brings some of the fierce, claustrophobic immediacy of the theatre, with the camera often looming rather intrusively upon the characters. But this is also a thrillingly cinematic film, which makes terrific visual use of the perilous landscape, making it feel like another character.

Cinematographer Arnar Thor Thorisson captures the pallid menace of this volcanic outpost, but also makes the interior of Solveig’s home feel equally disturbing, with one scene in particular in which the camera remains still while two characters have a particularly violent confrontation just out of shot, lingering long in the mind. The sound design by John Cobban is also terrific in helping to set the ominous tone and atmosphere, with his often discordant musical accompaniment.

This is the first of Maley’s EIFF Icelandic double bill, with A Reykjavik Porno soon to follow, and Maley has several other film projects in the pipeline, including a Canadian western. He has certainly marked himself out as a director to expect great things from, given the striking success of this noirish nightmare.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2016
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An abusive relationship forms the backdrop for this Nordic noir.

Director: Graeme Maley

Writer: Graeme Maley

Starring: Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Freyja Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Isabelle Joss, Iain Robertson, Björn Thors, Þrúður Vilhjálmsdóttir

Year: 2016

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: UK, Iceland


EIFF 2016

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