Out of the Celluloid Closet

This slow-burning gay mystery has thrills, chills, and biceps

I wasn’t expecting to get everything I wanted cinematically out a 2017 Icelandic thriller. But that’s the magic of cinema: you never know what you’re going to get, and sometimes you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by a movie you wouldn’t have looked twice at in normal circumstances.

My friend and I happened upon Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen’s Rift on Kanopy, and the explicitly gay, slow-paced story of a relationship’s uncertain end left us with more questions than answers. But in the case of a murder mystery, that can be a good thing.

During the holiday vacation, Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson) is coming to terms with the messy end of his relationship with Einar (Sigurður Þór Óskarsson) despite having fully moved on to a new relationship with a new hot twink. Still, the memory of Einar—a chaotic young man with artistic aspirations and problems with anger and drinking—haunts him, and when he gets a creepy voice message from Einar at 3 in the morning, Gunnar does what every ex who’s not at all over it would do. He drives hours away from Reykjavik and toward the horrifyingly rural, sparsely-inhabited family cabin where Einar is staying for Christmas. When he arrives, there doesn’t seem to be anything strange about Einar at first. Sure, he’s drinking too much, as usual, and sure, the cabin is pretty creepy—not only is it located in the absolute middle of nowhere with a door that won’t stay closed, surrounded by a huge field where children used to get lost when Einar was little, but there seems to be a Grindr killer on the loose—but soon the men fall back into a pleasant routine.

But this film is anything but straightforward, and soon enough we realize that time doesn’t unfold in the usual way here. The cabin seems to have its own sense of time, and we’re never sure where we are. Adding to this confusion is the fact that Gunnar and Einar haven’t really broken up. Nothing is resolved, and the two men are haunted by the past. So when things come to a violent head, it’s not clear what the truth is. Who is living, and who is dead, and what, exactly, happened between these men?

The lack of answers doesn’t matter, because the film itself is a vibe. If you’re a fan of eternal darkness, Icelandic winter, Ikea fried onions from a can, and the Nicholas Roeg classic Don’t Look Now, Rift may just scratch an itch you never knew you had.

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