“Looking around in Europe today, realizing the neo-fascism growing up day by day, we need to remember what took place on that island. What right-wing extremism can look like. […] When words can describe parts of what it was like to be out there, they are limited.”- Erik Poppe, director
Have you ever seen a movie so intense you were barely able to move? A movie so realistic you could almost smell the things around you? A movie so terrifying you can only get it out of your head by talking or writing about it? Utøya 22. juli is exactly that. A horrifying movie that makes you stop breathing without you even noticing it.
On July 22nd, 2011, Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Breivik placed a bomb at the government quarter in the center of Oslo, killing eight people and injuring over 200 more. Less than two hours after the bombing Breivik killed 69 more people on the small island of Utøya, dressed as a policeman.
Utøya 22. juli tells the story of 18-year-old Kaja (Andrea Berntzen). In the beginning of the movie she is attending a youth camp of the Norwegion Labour Party on the small Norwegian island of Utøya when she hears about the bombing in Oslo. “Don’t worry, we are on an island, it’s the safest place in the world”, she reassures her mom. And for a moment the island does look like the safest place in the world. Kids are returning from a swim in the lake, wrapped in towels, the field is filled with colorful tents and the audience sees Kaja in an innocent fight with her younger sister Emilie, who – according to Kaja – doesn’t really care about the bombing in Oslo. Kaja even gets hit on by the carefree Magnus and Petter, who is equally interested in politics as Kaja. But then a strange sound catches the attention of the young teenagers around the food stand.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
With the recent bombing in the back of their minds, Kaja tries to calm down the people around her. But when a group of terrified teenagers comes running out of the woods, the horrifying nightmare begins.
The next 72 minutes the camera follows Kaja – like a child tagging along very closely – in her attempt to find her sister Emilie as she fears for her own life, not knowing where the danger is coming from. The camera stays with Kaja as she runs around the island, encountering many different people, including a little boy in shock who is unable to leave his tent and a heavily wounded girl who asks Kaja to stay with her even when the gunshots are getting closer.
Utøya 22. juli is a gut-wrenching masterpiece that focusses on the courage of the young Utøya survivors and the absolute terror they had to go through. Director Erik Poppe uses frightening sounds to illustrate the threatening danger, without showing the actual shooter. The already confused audience can only guess how terrifying it must have been for the people who were actually on the island, who – at the time – had no idea who was hunting them, how many were hunting them and why. The attack in the movie is exactly 72 minutes long, just as long as the real-life attack, which gives the audience a sense of the endless shower of bullets and how long it took for emergency services to arrive. The shooting was also filmed in one take, which really gives the sensation of a never ending, terrifying nightmare. The camera work is outstanding and really drags the audience onto the island, which makes it hard to get back to reality.
‘Scary’ doesn’t even begin to describe this film since it is impossible to tell yourself that what happens in the movie will never happen to you. Utøya 22. juli is a hair-raising tribute to the courage of everyone who was on the island that day. As survivors say: it is a way to tell the story they were unable to tell for so many years. It is a way to show the world what pure hate looks like and what extremists are capable of when nobody does anything about it. Utøya is a constant reminder of what happened on that little island on July 22nd, 2011. Lest we never forget to always stand up against hate.
Utøya 22. juli was released on June 14 and can be seen in most smaller Dutch cinemas.
The picture featured in this blog was made by Helge Leirdal and is not actually Utøya.