Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film review: Black Ice

Director. Petra Kotwica
Country: Finland
Cast: Outi Mäenpää, Ria Kataja, Martti Suosalo

Revenge is rarely a simple matter, rarer still is an act of revenge that doesn’t come back to bite its perpetrator in the ass. It is with this in mind that Black Ice, whilst gamely accomplishing heightened states of tension, struggles to mask a sense of inevitability that veers closer to a frozen platter of predictability than a cool dish of genuinely dreadful vengeance.

Helsinki gynecologist Saara (Outi Mäenpää) is gracefully entering her middle age, still very much in love with her charming architect husband Leo (Martti Suosalo) and still habouring a dream of having children together. Finding a half-used pack of condoms (in his guitar case no less, the cad) on her birthday throws something of a spanner in the works. Leo's absurd denials lead Saara to turn detective and to the discovery that her husband is having an affair with one of his students, 20-something Tuuli (Ria Kataja).

Rather than confront Leo’s young mistress, Saara somehow finds herself enrolled in the marital arts class that Tuuli teaches and begins a masquerade that takes Black Ice down a slippery road of mild farce and tenuous melodrama. Assuming a new identity Saara sets about befriending Tuuli, to what end is never quite clear to anyone involved, but her motivation becomes increasingly conflicted as her relationship with her rival deepens.

It is on these psychological strings that Black Ice pulls in its vague single white female dalliance. Thriller elements are all there and ably magnified by the cold, dark and bleak Finnish landscape, but they struggle to carry the weight of disbelief requiring suspension over the calamities of circumstance that slowly build throughout the film. And with that in mind it is in the third act that writer-director Petra Kotwica’s script finds itself skating on the proverbial thin stuff as the squirms and cringes induced are less resulting from frayed nerves, but rather the sort afforded an episode of The Office.

Kotwica’s second outing behind the camera is, nevertheless, an assured work with two solid and one strong performances from the actors caught in the film’s central love triangle. It is in the exploration of intimacy, frailty and insecurity that Black Ice is at its observational best – probing human relations with a curious sense of cruelty. Ria Kataja, for her part, becomes the film’s greatest asset completely occupying Tuuli as Kotwica struggles to manage the melodrama. The young actress exudes not only the energy and confidence required of her superficial role as scarlet woman, but also the naivety of a young woman love-struck and led astray.

However, whilst Kotwica’s characters are all well-rounded and believable ones their contrived march toward the improbable inevitable becomes a full blown force against the credibility the film strives for. By the time events have culminated in film’s coup de grâce, the most disturbing pregnancy test in recent memory, there’s nothing left that could surprise you.

Scott Henderson
Published in issue 943 of 3D World.