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First Look Review - QUAKE

Following a fit, a woman is left with memory loss.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Tinna Hrafnsdóttir

Starring: Anita Briem, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir, Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson

quake poster

Looking over the films I’ve written about during the last month or so - I’m thinking specifically of Lola and the Sea and The Pit - there seems to be an emergent theme of bodily integrity, of characters who refute the body they were born into and who determine (prolonged, resolute) control over a physicality which contrasts the person they are. The transgender themes of both Lola and the Sea and The Pit (where the gender concerns of each film’s characters are integral to the plot) not only posit physicality as a constraint but also the society which the characters exist within as equally restrictive and judgemental when it comes to their respective physicality. It’s interesting, then, to see Quake, Tinna Hrafnsdóttir’s cool Icelandic melodrama, explore similar themes although within an explicitly non-LGBTQ+ framework: its central character falls foul of a physical malady which leads to others negatively regarding her. All three films, however, feature as their main character a woman who is at odds with her body, and who is treated with suspicion by her immediate context.

quake review

Saga (Anita Briem) is an author and single mother. This first aspect of her character, along with her on-the-nef name, is an ironic designation as it will turn out that Saga has a few stories from her past which she refuses to accept. Her parental denotation is also agitated when, out for a walk in the park with her young son, without warning Saga suffers a grand mal fit. A terrifying experience, but to add insult to injury, in the aftermath of the seizure Saga at once seems to have lost aspects of her memory, along with experiencing unsolicited reminders of repressed incidents. Saga no longer has the handle on her body which she believed she had, nor does she have the ability to order her own thoughts. What’s worse is that her family, who are painted as ostensibly decent and kind people, are tricky too. Following this out of the blue paroxysm, and Saga’s understandably ensuing fragility, they don’t think she is up to looking after the kid, arguing he’d be better off with his dad and treating Saga like a complete invalid.

quake review

This aspect of Quake is troubling. I’m no expert on matters, but surely the best course of action would be to provide support and an attempt at relative normalcy as Saga is tested and eventually medicated? I understand that caution has to be exercised and that concessions will need to be made, but the way Saga’s people carry on with her is just a step away from packing her off to Bedlam. It’s an amplification of events which give Quake an unearned sense of drama.


Ultimately a character study, Quake is adapted from the 2015 novel 'Grand Mal' by Auður Jónsdóttir, who is apparently massive in her home country of Iceland. 'Grand Mal' has been a domestic success, and Quake does have the retrospective feel of an adaptation. I wonder, then, if the medium of Jónsdóttir’s prose more proficiently articulated Saga’s interiors than cinema’s essentially objective camera was able to, imbuing the functional plot with emotional detail (the English translation isn’t out until Feb next year or I would have investigated further).

quake review

What Quake does present though is a pristinely realised drama, but one which is at times as cold and removed as its depicted environs. Throughout, however, there is the consistent visual delight of Scandi-porn: icy fjords, devastating mountains of cassiterite, ordered town streets and minimalist home interiors. Mmmmmm. Perfectly situated within this appealing photographic lexicon is Briem herself, whose polar beauty is at once steadfast and vulnerable, and provides Quake with a measurably riveting centre.

Quake opens in Iceland in January 2022. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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