On 22 July 2011, Norway experienced the deadliest attacks on its own soil since World War II. In the middle of the afternoon, a car bomb exploded outside the offices of the Prime Minister, killing 8 people. Less than 2 hours later, a 32-year-old man, dressed in a police uniform, bordered a ferry to Utøya island, which was hosting a summer camp run by the youth division of the ruling Labour Party. Far-right nationalist Anders Breivik opened fire on the unsuspecting campers, killing 69. Utøya – July 22 re-enacts the massacre which took place during one of the country’s darkest days.
Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) is a bright young woman who is one of hundreds of teenagers attending a summer camp on a small island. Despite the patchy reception, news reaches them of a bomb going off in Oslo. Whilst anxiety runs high through many of the group, they believe that they’re probably in one of the safest places. However, Kaja is frustrated by the attitude of her younger sister Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne) who doesn’t take it seriously. When suddenly shots are fired, everyone runs for cover. In the ensuing mayhem the pair are separated.
Erik Poppe was given the unenviable task of bring these events to the big screen, but with Utøya – July 22 he’s created a film which captures something of what it must have been like to be on Utøya that day. The chaos. The confusion. The trauma. The terror. By using a composite of witness testimonies and using a single take, he’s created a fictionalised version of events which is utterly harrowing. By focusing on the victims, and particularly on one person, he places the audience in their shoes. Allowing us to empathise with them whilst reducing the murderer to just one brief silhouette.
Utøya – July 22 screens at London Film Festival on 12 & 13 October and in cinemas around the UK from 26 October.