Utøya – 22 July: Prime Video ~ A Non-Spoiler Review

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Photo montage of scenes from Utoya - 22 July. Central image is the theatrical poster for the film

🇳🇴 UTØYA – July 22 🇳🇴

Utøya – July 22 aka Utøya – 22. Juli and U-22 July (2018) is a Norwegian drama-thriller film on Amazon Prime Video U.K. (rent/buy £3.49/£5.99). 1 hr 37 min. Norwegian with embedded English subtitles. 15 Cert U.K.


“A teenage girl struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.”


Andrea Berntzen as Kaja
Aleksander Holmen as Magnus
Solveig Koløen Birkeland as Injured Girl
Brede Fristad as Petter
Elli Rhiannon Müller as Emilie
Jenny Svennevig as Oda
Ingeborg Enes as Kristine
Sorosh Sadat as Issa
Ada Eide as Caroline
Mariann Gjerdsbakk as Silje
Daniel Sang Tran as Even
Torkas Dommersnes Soldal as Herman
Magnus Moen as Tobias
Karoline Petronella Ulfsdatter Schaumburg as Sigrid
Tamanna Agnihotri as Halima
Ann Iren Ødeby as Boat Driver

Theatrical poster for Utoya- July 22


Director: Erik Poppe
Writer: Siv Rajendram Eliason, Anna Bache-Wiig & Erik Poppe
Cinematographer: Martin Otterbeck
Music: Wolfgang Plagge
Sound Designer: Gisle Tveito
Special Effects: Philip Gabrielsen


Utøya – July 22 is in one single 83-minute long take in real-time. Erik Poppe had 5 days to get the perfect take with only one attempt a day. The take from day 4 is the one you see in the film.

Day 3’s take was affected by a solar storm which meant Poppe could not communicate with his cameraman.

This film was shot on a neighbouring island to Utøya.

There was close dialogue with several survivors to get the action as realistic and accurate as possible.

The mosquito on Kaja’s arm was coincidental.

More about the attacks:


Spanish language theatrical poster for Utoya - July 22


My thoughts before watching this film, which is about the horrific events on the island of Utøya in 2011, were mostly that of trepidation and anxiety as to not only what I would be seeing play out onscreen but also what my reaction would be. In the back of my mind, I was also concerned as to how authentic and respectful it would be and the balance it would have to strike between it being not a documentary but a dramatic work. Would I have to switch it off at any point? I mean, I knew this was not going to be an “easy watch” bearing in mind the subject matter. Would Erik Poppe’s film keep me watching?

Utøya – July 22 opens with simple title cards explaining what happened in Oslo and on Utøya on the 11th of July 2011 with the time they happened. Silence. Sound only quietly creeps in as ‘Oslo 3.17 p.m.’ appears on screen. Drone footage takes us into the heart of Oslo and we then see real footage of the explosion and its results. This is an important and tragic event in and of itself and vital for context for what follows on the island.

Poster with the alternative title U July 22 for the film Utøya - July 22

The context on the island is introduced in much the same manner, a title card of the location, a frame of a forest and tents then a title card with 5.06 p.m. Silence. Youngsters start to walk across the screen talking about Oslo and the phone signal being bad on the island. The camera is still. At this point, young Kaja walks into the frame and we hear her speak. She turns to face the camera and says: “You’ll never understand. Just listen to me. OK.” We realise she is talking on her phone to her mother, reassuring her. This is a powerful introduction because although she is not talking about subsequent events, she very well could be!

Andrea Berntzen as Kaja in Utøya- July 22

“We’re on an island, it’s the safest place in the world.”

From this point, the camera never leaves Kaja and her viewpoint (until the threat is almost over). The context of the youth camp is further explored as is Kaja’s somewhat volatile relationship with her younger sister Emilie. We are in a privileged position in knowing what is about to happen but here we vicariously experience the variety of responses to the news from Oslo and subsequent reactions to the terrorist attack itself.

This is the moment to say that the central performance by young Andrea Berntzen is phenomenal! With her, we go through all the confusion, terror, pain, physical demands, exhaustion, horror, shock and guilt. We stay with her as others debate, when she hunts for her sister, tries to save others and youngsters run past her in their desperate attempts to escape and survive.

Brede Fristad as Petter (right) with Andrea Berntzen as Kaja (centre) and Aleksander Holmen as Magnus left in a scene from Utøya- July 22

All the performances in this are excellent with Aleksander Holmen (Magnus) and Solveig Koløen Birkeland (Injured Girl) being outstanding. Bear in mind that the majority of the cast are unknowns.

Solveig Koløen Birkelen (Injured Girl) in Utøya- July 22 (promo still)

Watching Utøya is physically and emotionally exhausting but nothing compared to what the real victims went through. And this is another strength of this film: we see a range of reactions from others and their hopes and aspirations for the future.

Certain scenes are incredibly emotionally affecting (have no doubt, I cried at various points watching this). As a viewer I was willing some to do things differently but, in truth, I realised that I would most likely have done the same. When your life is threatened adrenaline kicks in and fight was clearly out of the question flight was the natural reaction. And I can tell you that every second of the 72-minute attack feels real. You will start to think: “When will this ordeal be over?”

At one point Kaja quietly and shakily sings “True Colors”:

And I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors

Whilst this could be criticised for being manipulative of the viewer, within the context it feels perfectly natural, poignant and empowering. It reminds us that Kaja has not only aspirations but a life before all this.

Aleksander Holmen (Magnus) on the left and Andrea Berntzen (Kaja) left in a scene from Utøya- July 22

There is another event nearer the end which could perhaps also be seen as conforming to the needs of drama but again I felt that this had a necessary impact. This film emphasises the could and would and should have been.

Elli Rhiannon Müller as Emilie In a promo still for Utøya - July 22

The camerawork in Utøya is absolutely fantastic! Breathtaking, literally. Since this is all a real-time single-take, the hand-held camera operator deserves every accolade because running through trees, throwing yourself onto the ground, wading through water etc. while carrying a camera are no mean feats, (let alone all the additional technical demands of, you know, filming!) The decision to use a hand-held camera and shoot in real-time works brilliantly for this film bringing visceral realism to the action.

The sound design is truly exceptional. It certainly made me jump and turn around at times. The music is very effective and affecting. If you can watch this with a decent sound system or headphones then I strongly suggest you do.

At no point in this film is the terrorist named and we only catch the briefest glimpse of his silhouette. A profound and wise decision to make as he is not the focus of this film or the real events and nor should he be.

As expected there are no truly happy endings to this story. How could there be? Those who survived are still suffering from psychological trauma even if they were not the ones who also had physical injuries. There will always be a debate as to whether series and films should be made of tragic events such as these but setting that discussion aside, if nothing else, they educate many and bring a realisation of the real events in a way that media coverage often cannot.

Right-wing extremism and terrorism remain since these tragic events and it is important to be aware of their very real threat. This, THIS, is the power of film.

Can I recommend Utoya – 22 July? Absolutely.


4 wins and 12 nominations ~


Amanda Awards, Norway (2018) Best Actress ~ Andrea Berntzen
Best Supporting Actress ~ Solveig Koløen Birkeland
Berlin International Film Festival (2018) Best Film ~ Erik Poppe
Kosmorama, Trondheim International Film Festival (2019) Best Sound Design ~ Gisle Tveito

European Film Awards (2018) Carlo di Palma Award (2018)
“European Cinematographer
Martin Otterbeck’s cinematography masterfully balances an aesthetic concern with the political meaning of the tragedy of Utøya. With very concentrated one-shot hand-held camera work, the cinematographer had to decide what to follow and what not to follow, thus creating an intense viewing experience as you find yourself on the island with the youngsters. Right-wing extremism is dangerously rising again: Cinema, in each of its parts, has the overwhelming responsibility to bring light into our dark times.”


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