Revenge is tricky. You might have heard. If you’ve ever seen a movie about the subject, you’ll know how messy and brutal it can be. First time Norwegian filmmaker Kjersti Steinsbø delves into those murky waters again, and while the filmmaker doesn’t have much new to add to the discussion, the coldly effective movie certainly delivers the necessary discomfort.
‘Hevn’ is a slow burn affair that rarely raises its action above simmer, but it’s shrouded in enough mystery and bolstered by a twisted and perverse enough plot that the results are often quietly devastating. The film might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a harsh little morality play worth experiencing.
Siren Jørgensen stars as Rebekka, a mysterious woman who arrives in a remote resort in the wilderness just as it’s closing for the season. The picturesque estate is forebodingly isolated. Rebekka soon meets the couple who own the place, Morten and Nina (Frode Winther and Maria Bock). They seem like an idyllic couple in that Nordic blonde way. They welcome Rebekka into their resort given that they have no other customers. She seems to recognize them, but plays it too straight-faced for anyone to notice. She claims to be a travel writer, but skirts any details discussing who she writes for our why she’s there. That only makes the couple more content to ensure her a pleasing stay. When alone, she pulls a large knife out of her minimal luggage. Clearly she will use it. The how, when and why are slowly explored over the course of the film. They aren’t always what you’d expect and never arrive in a straight line.
Steinsbø’s film is very quiet and still, no matter how dramatic or meaningful the scene. The images are always striking, often postcard pretty. However, the silences have an eerie atmosphere that never gives the audience much sense of comfort. Rebekka’s motivation for revenge slowly spools out in flashback and snippets of conversation. It seems justified, but we never feel like we know the whole story. Jørgensen’s performance is cool and calculated, with little emotion slipping through. She can believably fake being friendly, but the glimpses we get make it very clear that her plans are far from wholesome.
The plan isn’t straightforwardly violent either. Though the film qualifies as a thriller on genre terms, it’s not defined by big shocks or explosions of violence. Instead, it rides on suspense resulting from impending doom and uncertainly. Rebekka’s plot unfolds through manipulation of those around her to destroy a life without ever seeming directly involved. The attacks are psychological and personal, leaving everyone else emotionally devastated and distraught. It’s a peculiar tale to watch unfold and it’s somehow quietly gripping. The twists and manipulations hurt, yet through slow and awkward means, are both painfully believable and deeply uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, the movie can’t ride on moody atmosphere alone. Backstory must be revealed and that knife must be wielded. At a certain point, the suffocating atmosphere that Steinsbø’s builds up so gracefully for so long pops and the fireworks that follow aren’t nearly as satisfying. Some intriguing questions are raised, like how culpable one should be for their past actions when they’ve grown and changed, or how much responsibility for a tragedy can be laid on a single person. The answers offered aren’t easy.
‘Hevn’ is an intriguing film with plenty to chew on and an unexpected amount of psychological suspense that makes the tale rather gripping for at least an hour. However, when the pieces start to fall into place, the movie becomes a bit more predictable and even somewhat generic in thriller terms. While not a bad movie or even one so devastatingly disappointing in its climax that it undoes all the good that came before, it’s ultimately just a revenge movie.
That’s fine. It’s a good one. As a talent showcase debut for Kjersti Steinsbø, the movie establishes an intriguing filmmaking voice worth following in the future. Just don’t expect more than a movie whose title translates as ‘Revenge’ should promise, even when the intriguing opening acts suggest that it could be heading toward deeper waters.