Breaking Surface (2020) is a Norwegian-Swedish-Belgian drama/thriller available free on Amazon Prime U.K. 1hr 22min in Swedish and Norwegian with subtitles (no dubbing). Cert 12 U.K.
“A winter diving trip in Norway turns into a desperate race against time for two sisters when one of them becomes trapped at the bottom of the ocean by falling rocks.” IMDb
Moa Gammel Ginsberg as Ida
Madeleine Martin as Tuva
Trine Wiggen as Anne
Jitse Jonathan Buitnik as Dive Instructor
Remi Alashkar as Tanker Captain’s Assistant
Alessio Barreto as Tanker Captain
Irma Jenny Hallberg as Young Ida
Ingrid Pettersen as Young Tuva
Lena Hope as Woman
Maja Söderström as Ida’s daughter
Writer: Joachim Hedén
Director: Joachim Hedén
Composer: Patrick Kirst
Cinematographers: Eric Börneson (underwater) Anna Pararakina
Editor: Fredrik Morheden
Special Effects: Peter Keyling, David Peter
Visual Effects: Tony Kock, Jelmen Palsterman (66 people in total!)
Stunts: Kristoffer Jørgensen, Martin Zetterlund, Malin Leadersson (stunt double)
Filming took place on the Lofoten Islands, Norway and at the Lites Film Studios, Belgium.
Breaking Surface has only recently become available on Amazon Prime video and I was keen to watch it for a couple of reasons, firstly as a fan of Moa Gammel (Jordskott, Let the Right One In) and secondly as an erstwhile (non-professional) scuba diver with some experience diving in extremely cold conditions, in cave systems and at depth. So what did I make of this drama-thriller movie about a potential diving tragedy?
The story starts with an event from the past in the lives of Ida and her younger sister, Tuva, where the latter nearly dies from drowning. We see the reaction of their mother towards this event and how she apportions blame to the older sister. An early niggle here with the writing is that this is flagged to the audience too heavily (we “get” the issue without it having to be hammered home).
Time moves on and the “lucky-to-be-alive” Tuva is now a professional diver working on ship maintenance. At this point, she has another near-fatal experience while diving in what would be extreme incompetence from anyone onboard a ship, but also herself. So we have to suspend disbelief if we know this.
The now-adult girls, Ida with children and a failing marriage, and Tuva meet up in Norway with their somewhat unbalanced mother to go on a diving trip. Once again we see the way Tuva is adored and Ida far less so, but she is herself standoffish which does not help us, the audience, like her more. Thankfully the mother is unwell and cannot go diving with them.
At this point, the sisters set off on their diving trip and stop to help a woman who has a flat tire on the way (yes, we get that Tuva is the independent, practical one…) They go to the exact spot they had dived with their mother years before. They are going to use stolen full-face masks, even though Ida has not used one for years (suspend your disbelief in any safe diving practice here). They need to wear a full-face mask to allow them to talk to each other.
The dogs! At this juncture I should point out that dogs feature in this film, one is Tuva’s, who she feeds cigarette butts to so that her mother does not find out about her surreptitious smoking (yes, an adult and this action does not exactly enhance our opinion of Tuva either). There is another dog and… well… you have been warned. The scene in the film to which I am referring was possibly my least favourite, but only because it seems a daft and unnecessary addition (which will quite likely adversely affect much of the audience’s sympathy with Ida) just to add another problem for her, and a later, relevant solution to another problem (there is broken glass, just let that do the job).
Before I look at what I loved in this movie I need to mention those things I did not. The writing of the main characters, especially Ida, is problematic because it continually hinders the audience’s empathy with her (not just dogs). Some of the many issues she encounters are of the eye-rolling “really?” variety. We know she is panicking but that is where drills step in and some basic kit handling is one of those. Too much is asked at times of the viewers to suspend their disbelief (such as “just ask your sister if you cannot find the…”) There is also an over-egging of details such as initials on cave walls (you do not mess up a dive knife doing this while on a dive where you may need it!) which is a saccharine touch. This is a shame because the overall story is essentially very compelling.
What did I love about this movie? The underwater sequences are absolutely stunning! The cinematography is just fabulous with the crystal clear water, the bubbles of air ascending, the cave diving (I am claustrophobic and believe me this is not exactly pleasant to watch). Those involved in any way with the diving and filming both underwater (the underwater scenes were filmed at the studios in Belgium that has a special tank) and elsewhere deserve praise because this is seriously impressive stuff. Breaking Surface is not The Abyss but it is worth watching for these. The filming conditions in Norway look, for much of the time, extremely challenging and unpleasant. There is also a good range of special and visual effects that work very well and the editing is first-rate.
The central performances in Breaking Surface are also extremely good (bearing in mind also that conveying facial expression through a mask is not easy) and these actors certainly earned their wages! I loved the buddy breathing scenes and the way they acted below water as they tried to solve the life-threatening situation they find themselves in.
I thought that the way certain important technical details were explained to the audience (such as the danger of multiple ascents from depth) was done quite well, bearing in mind both divers should know these already but the audience may well not.
There is a strange ethereal scene at the very end, almost a postscript, and I will put my hand up and say that I did not understand what that was about, even though it was visually engaging.
Overall I enjoyed my watch of Breaking Surface – albeit mostly for the photography of all the underwater sequences. Parts are extremely exciting and anxiety-inducing (especially if claustrophobia is your “thing”) and the acting throughout is very good indeed.
Guldbagge Awards (2021) Best Editing ~ Fredrik Morgeden; Best Visual Effects ~ Tony Kock, Jelmen Palsterman
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