Film Critic Kat Forbes reviews Utøya: 22 July, the second of two films that looks at the Norwegian terror attack of 22 July 2011
Utøya: July 22 is one of two films released this year that covers the 2011 Norway attacks by a right-wing extremist, Anders Breivik. On July 22nd 2011, a car bomb exploded in the government quarter of Oslo; near the Prime Minister’s office. Later that same day, a second attack took place on the island of Utøya at the Norwegian Labour Party youth division summer camp. On Utøya, Breivik opened fired on the children of government officials in an attack that lasted a staggering 72 minutes. Overall, in these dual terror attacks, Anders Breivik murdered 77 and injured 319 people.
The bulk of the 97-minute Utøya: July 22 consists of a 72-minute take following a single victim undergoing Breivik’s attack. Through this continuous journey with Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) we, the audience, get the closest that we can to ever be to understanding that situation. The intensity of the film makes you want to take a five-minute break part-way through; it is stifling yet incredible. Whilst this is an emotionally rigorous watch – and I’ll be the first to admit that my stress levels increased dramatically – it does have some small moments of relief. This relief comes in the form of the character of Magnus (Aleksander Holmen) who only came to the Norwegian Labour Party summer camp to find a summer romance. These small moments make the attack more heart-breaking, as it emphasises the fact that a vast majority of Breivik’s victims were just teenagers enjoying their summer holiday. The effect of Utøya: July 22 is definitely enhanced by seeing it in a cinema, but you could also watch it in your bedroom, with all the lights turned off, as it is the most realistic horror movie I have ever experienced.
I was fortunate enough to watch Utøya: July 22 at the BFI London Film Festival. This particularly unique cinematic opportunity definitely increased my love of the film. I had the privilege of seeing a live Q&A with the director, Erik Poppe and Andrea Berntzen as well as three survivors of the Utøya attack. Poppe emphasised his intent for the film to be used to bring back focus to the victims of the act of terrorism and away from the terrorist. This is seen in Utøya: July 22 with Breivik never being shown; only the sounds of gunshots, a singular shadow and the results of his actions are seen. Poppe decided to limit Breivik’s exposure in his film because he felt like there was no need to showcase the terrorist any more than the media had already. Additionally, all of those interviewed stressed the need to combat the steady rise of right-wing extremism in Norway and across Europe; evidenced by Breivik having two separate copycats in Poland and the Czech Republic who planned similar attacks but were both caught and arrested in 2012.
It would be impossible to talk about Utøya: July 22 without discussing 22 July, a separate film released on Netflix recently. Whilst Utøya: July 22 focuses on the attacks themselves, 22 July depicts the attacks for around 30-minutes and instead tells the story of the recovery of the victims, Norway and the story of Anders Breivik. While I would recommend watching both films – I mean, they both made me cry – I preferred Utøya: July 22. My preference is mainly due to the completely different cinematic experience it presents through its 72-minute take. Additionally, I support this film’s lack of showcasing of the terrorist; a theme prevalent in the other film.
VERDICT: I would highly recommend seeing Utøya: July 22; it is stifling, intense, heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’ve cried at many things in my lifetime and this was definitely worth my tears. It is spectacular and really displays the power of cinema.