Vengeance thrillers might be everyday occurrences, but every once in a while one comes along that demands you take notice of it. Iceman was inspired by Ötzi, a mummified corpse discovered in the early ‘90s in the Ötzal Alps, where the cold preserved the body for the 5,300 years since his death.
The film imagines the final days of his life by following Kelab, a hunter whose family and tribe were killed by invaders who made off with a holy relic, the only survivor of the massacre a newborn baby. As he tracks those responsible, he begins to question the morality of his actions and strive to not become like those he stalks.
As well as a Neolithic story of revenge, the film also acts as a story of man against nature, drawing deserved comparisons to The Revenant, from the intense cold, heavy rain and lack of shelter all hampering Kelab in his journey and at times threatening to put a premature end to his mission. Filming took place in the same region of alpine Italy that Ötzi was found, capturing the untamed majesty of the mountain wilderness in sweeping tracking shots that magnify their breathtaking beauty, the vast monoliths of stone and snow standing indifferent to the plight of the pitifully mortal humans playing out beneath their stoic and eternal stare.
Such is the attention given to the landscape, the human aspect gets a little lost at times, but when it refocuses the encounters Kelab has with anonymous travellers, it emphasises how wild and empty the world once was. When they come, the few action sequences are staged with deft precision that portrays violence quick, visceral, unglamourised and borderline animalistic; the few cuts between shots amplifying their tight intensity.
The infrequent dialogue is spoken in early Rhaetic, an ancient and extinct language that is relayed without subtitles. Such is the timeless and straightforward nature of the story, it’s easy enough to understand what’s being said, if not the precise meanings of each word. In truth, the speech consists of little more than rudimentary grunting, which is really all that was required for communication in the sparse and harsh lives these people live. However, the decision hampers the potential for character nuance since by definition we can’t get to know them, and it also helps to look at a cast list before watching the film so you might be able to pick up on proper nouns the few times they’re spoken.
Iceman is an ambitious undertaking, if a little underwhelming in its execution. The awe-inspiring location shooting and meticulous recreation of Copper Age life are a triumph, but the familiar story and limited characterisation ultimately offers little more than the scores of similarly-plotted films to have come before it.
ICEMAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: FELIX RANDAU / STARRING: JÜRGEN VOGEL, ANDRÉ HENNICKE, SABIN TAMBREA, SUSANNE WUEST, MARTIN AUGUSTIN SCHNEIDER / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17TH