The complexity of LGBTQI characters in modern cinema still has a ways to go. Too often, we still see the stereotypical (and offensively two-dimensional) gay-bestie or flamboyant supporting character with all the emotional range and substance of a pop-tart. There are however, glimmers of hope that represent the gay community with intelligence and honesty, cleverly (and with no BS) depicting the realities of LGBTQI relationships.
Rift (Rökkur in the original Icelandic) is absolutely one of these films. Written and directed by Icelandic Erlingur Thoroddsen (Child Eater, 2016 and The Banishing, 2013), Rift is an Icelandic thriller, telling the story of two men in a secluded cabin who are haunted by their dead relationship.
It begins when Gunner (Bjorn Stefansson) receives a strange phone call from his ex-boyfriend, Einar (Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson), months after their unresolved break-up. Einar sounds distraught, like he’s about to do something terrible to himself, so Gunnar drives up to the secluded cabin where Einar is holed-up and soon discovers that there’s more going on than he anticipated. As the two men come to terms with their broken relationship and reminisce about their traumatic childhood experiences, they gradually realise that there may be someone else in this seemingly lonely region. Threatening noises outside the house grow in intensity, and the looming presence of a mysterious figure in red forces the pair to question their reality.
Having both written and directed the film, Erlingur Thoroddsen knows the world he has constructed inside and out, and as a result the complexity of the narrative is sewn into every facet of the writing and direction in a highly obscure and layered way. In fact, it’s one of those films you can watch over and over and find something new every time.
To this end, Thoroddsen is very clever with his tropes here, using a delicate blend of symbolism and distortion to create this fractured, hyper-real environment. The characters – and therefore the audience – are kept in a constant state of questioning what’s real and what isn’t, which keeps the intrigue-factor strong right through to the very end. To give a local comparison, Rift communicates about sexual trauma in much the same way as Aussie smash-hit The Babadook does with mental illness.
If you’re a cinematography nut, Rift is definitely for you. The brutal and vast landscape play a large role in the film’s symbolic value, sure, but if nothing else, it is damn breathtaking to look at.
Likewise, the performances of Bjorn Stefansson and Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson should be commended, as the film is essentially a two-man gig. The pair have very little to rely on; with nothing else but each other and their reactions to what the other is experiencing. It was a tall order, and the pair do a magnificent job in expressing the strange relationship between love and pain.
What’s really – and perhaps most – exciting about this film is that the characters’ sexuality is a complete non-issue. Gunner and Einar are at complete ease with their sexuality, and are represented with the same complexities as a straight couple. The fact that they are gay is never really pointed out, rather they just *are* gay, as much as a straight couple is straight. It’s a significant benchmark for how a mainstream thriller/horror film should be dealing with representations of LGBTQI life.
Rift is terrifying, thrilling, highly-nuanced, a pivotal moment in queer cinema, and one hell of a ride!
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