out of Five
Running time: 124
Gripping, offbeat Russian psychological thriller that works on several levels, thanks to its extraordinary setting, a suitably terse script and strong performances from its two leads.
What's it all about?
Directed by the splendidly named Aleksei Popogrebsky, How I Ended This Summer stars Grigoriy Dobrygin as Pavel, a young meteorological scientist stationed on Archym Island, a remote outpost in the Arctic Circle, where he works as the assistant to senior colleague Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis). With very little to do, Pavel spends most of his time listening to music, chasing rabbits, swinging on giant satellite dishes or rock-climbing, so he's excited when Sergei hands him the responsibility for some telemetry readings.
However, while Sergei is away on a fishing trip, Pavel receives terrible news about Sergei's family over the radio and when Sergei returns, Pavel fails to pass on the message, perhaps out of fear for his colleague's temper. Pavel's increasing paranoia drives him to ever more desperate measures and when Sergei eventually discovers the truth, the stage is set for a violent confrontation...
The performances are excellent, particularly Grigoriy Dobrygin (who looks a bit like Hayden Christensen), whose character becomes increasingly disturbing, because you can't work out just how crazy he's actually gone. In addition, the cleverly written script keeps his motivations for not telling Sergei the news intriguingly hidden, which creates an extremely tense atmosphere throughout.
The film is beautifully shot, with cinematographer Pavel Kostomarov making strong use of the extraordinary location (an actual working weather station in the Arctic tundra). The production design is equally impressive, particularly all the details in and around their work-space.
Aside from delivering in terms of a straight-up psychological thriller, the film also works as an existentialist survival drama and a chilling examination of paranoia and irrational fear. It's also not hard to see it as a spin-off from the weird meteorological bits in the TV series LOST, particularly when the polar bear shows up.
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a gripping psychological thriller heightened by an extraordinary location and strong performances from its two leads. Highly recommended.
How I Ended This Summer (12A)