The Movie Waffler New Release Review - GODLAND | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - GODLAND

Godland review
A Danish priest is assigned to oversee the construction of a church in Iceland.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hlynur Pálmason

Starring: Elliott Crosset Hove, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Jacob Lohmann, Vic Carmen Sonne, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir

Godland poster

In recent years Iceland has become the go-to location for filmmakers who wish to recreate fantasy realms or alien worlds. Its landscape is forbidding and largely uninhabited, yet it's also a top destination for stag dos and boozy weekends. It's a country few would have the fortitude to survive in, but everybody wants to visit for a fun time.

Godland review

This duality is at the heart of writer/director Hlynur Pálmason's period drama Godland, which almost feels like the work of an Icelander sick of tourists vomiting over the edge of his country's cliffs. Set at some point in the late 19th century, it tells of a young Danish priest, Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), who is sent to Iceland (then part of the Danish empire) to oversee the construction of a church in a small village on the island's west coast. Lucas could simply take a boat directly to the village, but he's a keen photographer who insists on making a cross-country trek, documenting the country with his camera on his travels.

This journey takes up roughly the first half of the film and plays like a call back to the sort of movies Tarkovsky and Herzog made in the 1970s. While none of the cast and crew of Godland are likely to have developed cancer or tried to murder their director, it does look like the sort of shoot that can't have been much fun. Lucas's naivete about the unwelcoming nature of Iceland and its people soon gives way to distress as the journey takes it emotional and physical toil. With wind, rain and snow constantly battering the screen, you may wish to change your socks halfway through the movie, such is the rugged realism of the filmmaking.

Godland review

Godland can't be accused of subtlety. Early on a large wooden cross hauled by Lucas's Icelandic guides is lost in a river, an on-the-nose symbol of the philosophical crisis about to befall the priest. It's also not particularly original, relying heavily on aping shots from Tarkovsky films as Maria von Hausswolff's camera pans slowly across swampy terrain and Hove increasingly resembles Stalker's Alexander Kaidanovsky as the movie progresses. It's in the second half that it really becomes derivative. After passing out on his journey, Lucas wakes in his destination, finding himself in the care of Danish settler Carl (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann) and his daughters, the twentysomething Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and the young teenager Ida (Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir). The animosity between Lucas and his chief local guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson, stars of Pálmason's previous film, A White, White Day), grows in a way that plays like a barely disguised reworking of the central duel fought between Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood. Here it's the religious man who is the interloper and a godless local who rubs up against him, but it's almost a beat for beat retelling of the final act of Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed drama. The image of the half-constructed church is likely inspired by Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller, and there's something of the Australian New Wave classic Wake in Fright in how Lucas goes from pompous and starched to wide-eyed and psychotic, a transformation brought on by his inability to adapt to his gruff surrounds.

At two hours and 20 minutes, Godland spends a lot of time trying to find its own story, and never quite succeeds. Pálmason clearly has an issue with organised religion and wants to point out its hypocrisy - which he does very well in a late scene that sees the young priest lose his rage when his sermon is disrupted by a crying baby and a barking dog (so much for all God's creatures) - but I'm not sure I bought the supporting characters' disdain for the church. When Lucas and Anna start making googly eyes at one another, her father grows angry, disapproving of the priest. Maybe I'm wrong, but a Lutheran priest seems like the ideal candidate any 19th century Danish man would want for a son-in-law.

Godland review

Godland doesn't have much original to say, and what it does say is often hard to swallow, particularly some final reel escalations. It can however claim to be one of the most visually impressive movies you'll see all year. Using an almost square frame with rounded edges to evoke Lucas's photographs, the cinematography forces you to look into the frame, into the landscape, into the void. Iceland is captured as a land both beautiful and inhospitable. You might want to pack some extra pairs of socks for your mate's Reykjavik stag do.

 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from April 7th.

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