Judge Bill Gibron's inner adolescent prefers this film's original Norwegian title.
Let the Hunt Begin
It's been 10 years since the Plague has swept through "The North Country," killing off most of the population while leaving some scared, and some beyond desperate. Those mean enough to make it take to exploiting the less fortunate and strong. These marauders, roaming the countryside looking for victims to kill, come upon the family of Singe (Isabel Christine Andreasen). After doing away with her mother, father, and little brother, they take the girl to their cliff side campsite, where our future heroine discovers the harsh facts of her new life. The leader, a ruthless woman named Dagmar (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Chernobyl Diaries) is looking for an older sister for her other captive, a little girl named Frigg (Milla Olin). When Singe rejects the notion, she is left to her own near dead devices, and the horny warriors circling her. Taking advantage of Frigg's good nature, she manages to break free.
And as the cover art says, "the chase is on." Sort of.
Here is what Escape is not. First, take a look at the cover art offered at the top of this review. Then click over to our own Chief Judge Stailey's take on the huge hit film phenomenon The Hunger Games. See anything similar? Yep, that's right. Singe (or what is supposed to pass as Singe, since she NEVER looks like this EVER in the entire film) is armed with a bow and arrow and is striking a pose similar to the poster from that celebrated Spring 2012 hit. Such content bait and switch would have you believe that this is some rip roaring action adventure where our previously unskilled hostage learns the survival ropes and starts taking down the baddies with efficient archer precision. Well, you'd be wrong. In fact, the cover art is actually an interpretation of the original work done when this film was called Flukt (try saying that in mixed company), offering Ms. Berdal's Dagmar in a defiant, villainous stance, arrow aimed directly at us.
So clearly E1's faith in this film is connected to a potential viewers inability to differentiate between some random Norwegian model (again, neither Singe or Dagmar look like the woman depicted) and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, and that's a shame. Like other similarly styled efforts from Scandinavia (Valhalla Rising, Troll Hunter), this film has a dark, rich undercurrent of cruelness that puts the flash and fire of Ms. Suzanne Collins Battle Royale rip-off to shame. This is really more akin to those Discovery Channel specials where someone is left in the wild, unable to fend for themselves, until they slowly learn how to forge weapons out of wood and random bits of rock. Singe, her new sibling Frigg by her side, can barely walk erect, let alone become a survivor. Luckily, she runs into a cabin, and its owner, who sort of shows her the ropes…or at least, enough to take care of the five people who come after them.
This is a thriller by way of accident, a scant 80 minute tour of breathtaking Norwegian mountain vistas occasionally dotted with a foot chase or bloody death. Oh, and there are moments of backstory where we learn why Dagmar is so determined to "have" another child, and get back at anyone who stands in her way, and there's even a moment or two of emotion between Singe and Frigg. But throughout Escape, director Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey) focuses more on the landscape than the people. He sets up situations-creaking logs over deep ravines-which you know will pay off later while turning Dagmar and her gang into a bunch of ruthless reprobate. The only problem is, he doesn't give Singe the same attention. Oh sure, she has a dead brother, but that's a given in this Black Death ravaged world. She needs more impetus than merely staying alive. Frigg is not enough. Without a solid center to identify with, Escape becomes more procedural than personal. We enjoy it as it goes through its memorable motions, but feel nothing when it's over.
It's time for caveat number two: no matter what the opening menu says, there are not two versions of this film available on the otherwise excellent Blu-ray from E1 Entertainment. When offered the choice between "Norwegian" or "English," go with the former. The dub here is awful and lacking any legitimate link to the actor's mouth movements. Thankfully, the subtitles are easy to read and provide a nice counterbalance to the foreign language spoken. The 1080p image has been heavily manipulated in post, and you can see it here. Colors run from sun-dappled yellows to cold and heartless blues. Once you screen the visual effects featurette, you'll see the amount of work done on the 2.40:1 transfer. Another reason to stick with the film's original language? It's offered in lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. It's clean and crisp and a lot better than the sad English stereo. Finally, the added content is interesting. The bloopers are funny, the deleted scenes add a bit here and there, and as said before, the featurette is fun (like the moments when the oddly dressed cast stand along the side of a Norway highway, waiting for a shot to set up nearby).
If you want something a bit different in the one against nature subgenre, Escape will entertain. Just get all images of Katniss Everdeen and her kid killing contest out of your mind and you'll enjoy this.
Not guilty, but not the movie you think it will be either.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Deleted Scenes
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