A White, White Day review – chilly Icelandic drama explores the futility of revenge

This Scandi thriller about a grieving grandfather from writer-director Hlynur Palmason is best when at its most grounded

A lot of Scandinavian films function as both dramas and subtle tourism adverts, stunningly shot travelogues that make you desperately want to visit the region, even if the stories themselves are dark. A White, White Day breaks this tradition with startling efficiently, the bleakness of its Icelandic tale reflected in the fear with which the environment is presented. Blizzards rage, civilisation is absent, and a blinding fog perpetually chokes the roads, hiding fear and death in its depths.

In this sea of white mist, a car careens off the road, plunging into a ravine and killing the driver immediately. This driver is the wife of ageing cop Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who suppresses his grief under a calm demeanour, distracting himself with the project of building a new house for himself and his remaining family. This seems to be working, until he starts to suspect that she had been cheating on him before her death with a younger man in the local vicinity.

Ingimundur’s sadness, jealousy, and rage begin to boil over, but writer-director Hlynur Palmason takes his time before fully unleashing the chaos. A White, White Day is a very slow burn, for better and worse. The leisurely pace lets us really get to know Ingimundur and his family, especially his precocious, high-energy granddaughter Salka, with whom he spends most of his time. Their relationship is a beacon of warmth in what is otherwise a very cold film, and young actor Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir puts in an impressive performance.

Everyone else in Ingimundur’s life, from his unthinking daughter to his strangely confrontational therapist, is rather feckless, and Sigurdsson does strong work in letting the audience know how Ingimundur feels about them without resorting to obvious disdain. These character moments are punchy and sometimes darkly funny, especially when Ingimundur gets into a Three Stooges-esque fistfight with his fellow police officers, but the slowness of the film is more problematic when it comes to the plot.

New developments are hidden in otherwise uneventful scenes, a choice that lurches between being satisfying for more attentive viewers and simply asking too much of the audience for too little eventual reward. A climactic confrontation starts out menacing, but rather peters out before it can become a satisfying conclusion.

Given the amount of time dedicated to shots of changing seasons, tame ponies gambolling around, and rocks falling down a seemingly endless array of steep hills, the abruptness of the finale isn’t quite earned. That’s not to say that these shots are without their merits, though – at their best, they have something alienating and uncanny in them, and Palmason does a fantastic job of expressing just how terrifying driving an Icelandic winter road must be.

In trying to mix a revenge thriller with a study of the mundanity of grief, A White, White Day is only partially successful, and actually more engaging when it's at its most mundane. Yet, in the moments where it really digs deep into its characters and the healing power that caring for a child can have, it makes for sincerely affecting viewing.

A White, White Day is now available on Curzon Home Cinema.

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