ESCAPE (or FLUKT) is a great little Norwegian period action movie. If I had seen any other Norwegian period action movies I’m confident this would still be one of the best. It’s kind of like a post-apocalypse movie because the population has been decimated by the Black Plague, and gangs of brutes terrorize anybody with the balls to travel around. One such balls-having family is attacked by one such gang, and only their teenage daughter Signe (Isabel Christine Andreasen) is spared.
It’s a gang of five men and one woman, Dagmar (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), who is their leader. Dagmar seems like a real savage and they’re all scared of her, but when they get back to the camp it seems like maybe she’s got some sense of sisterhood, some instinct to be protective of her fellow females. There’s an innocent little girl there named Frigg (Milla Olin), and as soon as she sees her Dagmar turns all motherly, talking to her sweetly and kissing her on the cheek. The men try to intimidate Signe, but Dagmar reassures her. “Don’t worry, they won’t touch you.”
But then, “Unless I let them.”
See, what Dagmar has planned for Signe is worse than what happened to her family. She says she’s barren, but Frigg needs a little sister. So you can see why Signe needs to flukt. Or escape.
Frigg is not full barbarian yet. She’s obviously concerned about this girl who she can tell has been kidnapped. “Why is she here?” But Dagmar pressures her to guard Signe and punish her if she tries anything. There’s some tension about whether this little girl will really cut off one of Signe’s fingers when instructed to, but (SPOILER) instead she cuts her loose and they go on the run together.
It’s short and simple – 78 minutes, and I think that’s including the credits – and mostly a chase movie. But within the confines of this uncomplicated story there are many areas of drama. Signe is torn with guilt about not protecting her little brother, and afraid she’s not equipped to protect Frigg. She doesn’t know how to survive on her own, and honestly thinks Frigg might be better off sticking with the kidnapper rapist clan.
Frigg is torn between wanting to escape with Signe and fearing what Dagmar will do to her if she doesn’t go back to her.
There’s also tension within the gang. One guy is more rapey, and tends to get out of line. One guy looks kinda like Jim Caviezel and is therefore more sensitive. He tries to talk Dagmar into being nicer, and there is a possibility that making such a request will have repercussions.
There’s alot of mountains in this place so there’s alot of cliffs and dangerous, narrow bridges over ravines. Signe knows a little bit about weapons (in the opening her father is trying to teach her to shoot an arrow), but she’s dealing with experienced adult warriors with swords, axes, bows and fists. So in my opinion she’s at a disadvantage.
I knew about this movie because it comes from the excellently named director Roar Uthaug, who did the first COLD PREY movie, a simple and straight ahead Norwegian take on the classic slasher formula. Writer Thomas Moldestad is credited with story for COLD PREY and COLD PREY II. I’d meant to rent ESCAPE and I remembered it when I saw COLD PREY star Berdal in HERCULES fighting alongside The Rock. She was a badass warrior princess and I thought this might be kind of a similar role, but as the main character.
Not the case! Dagmar is the villain of course, and she couldn’t look more different. Berdal is traditionally hot in HERCULES, here she’s weathered and butch, her eyebrows bleached blond. Ignore the weirdly photoshopped picture on the cover of the American DVD and blu-ray. She’s a great villain not just because she’s scary, and not just because that’s juxtaposed with her attempt to be a normal mother to this girl, but because (like Eva Green’s character in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE) when her backstory is revealed I was tempted to side with her. But unlike in that movie the protagonists here are totally innocent. It’s questionable if Dagmar could ever be redeemable at this point, but the fact that it all started with her being wronged gives her sort of a classical horror villain feel, like a Universal Monster or Candyman. And Berdal really plays all those layers: wicked, vengeful, grieving. A great performance.
Speaking of horror, it makes sense that this comes from the director of a pretty good slasher movie. It’s full of tense chase sequences, hiding, trying to be quiet, that kind of thing. It’s not a gore movie really, but it’s got its moments. There is some squirting blood. And I’ll be damned if there isn’t a major homage to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, a clever reversal of a climactic moment in that slasher classic. A less slashery but great setpiece moment involves a standoff with swords, arrows and hostages. And there’s some good use of slow motion, especially in a scene where Signe is getting her head dunked in the river and trying not to get water in her mouth.
The casting is dead on across the board. The bad guys are different types of interesting looking brutes. Signe is noticeably out of place in the wilderness, more prim than everybody else, but she gives it her best. And it takes her some time to get used to stooping to their level. She kills people in unequivocal self defense and then looks pained by it.
Little Frigg is perfect too. A sad little girl, but her eyes are colder. She’s been through more. When Signe is startled by two decomposing bodies they find she doesn’t understand the reaction. “They’re just dead people.”
If I have one minor complaint it’s that the score by Magnus Beite is a bit overblown at times, but I don’t blame them for trying to Hollywood up their humble Nordsploitation movie. This really deserves to be seen by more people. Its pleasures are simple but great.