Remaining on his native island after a brief stint in Hollywood, Icelandic master of gloom Baltasar Kormákur follows the excellent TV series Trapped with another tale of moody suspense.
Despite The Oath’s setting of Icelandic capital Reykjavík suspended with dark beauty in the frozen arctic winter, those looking for their next fix of Nordic Noir might be a little disappointed, as this is far more of a personal tale than the grim mysteries the sub-genre provides. It is, however, a straightforward yet gripping psychological thriller driven by a study of just how far a father is willing to go to protect his daughter.
The story centres around Finnur (Kormákur directing himself for the first time since his 101 Reykjavík debut), a successful surgeon and family man whose 18-year-old daughter Anna has become mixed up with her dealer boyfriend Óttar’s criminal lifestyle. Despite the relationship being clearly detrimental to her safety, as Anna is legally an adult there is little the authorities can do. Held in dual thrall to her addiction and passion, she does in may ways still behave like an irresponsible child, so Finnur takes it upon himself to save her from her own self-destruction despite what it might end up costing him.
As Finnur and Óttar’s personal war of attrition gradually escalates it’s soon shown that all actions and decisions have consequences, and what might seem like a crafty or dangerous move cannot be guaranteed to simply resolve the situation outright. It’s difficult to directly talk about the story’s events as a major turning point takes place far enough into the film to warrant being classed as a spoiler, but when it comes the story is catapulted in a new direction and opens up questions about what is morally justified in the defence of your family.
The title refers to the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take, often oversimplified as “Do no harm,” which the film’s opening states to include the acknowledgment that a doctor has it within them to save a life, but also take one. This duality is seen in Finnur’s determination to push himself into doing increasingly objectionable things to keep safe those he loves, and provides an indicator of the extent to which we can expect events to intensify.
The decidedly bleak portrayal of the human condition means that there’s no reason everything should all tie up neatly, and so you remain constantly on edge, convinced that at any moment something is about to go horribly wrong and tragedy will mercilessly strike. A happy ending is most certainly not a guarantee, and it becomes clear that whatever resolution there is will come at a price that cannot easily be repaid.
The Oath begins as merely involving, but as its emotional intensity pulls you deeper into its spiralling vortex of scheming, it soon becomes utterly compelling.
THE OATH / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: BALTASAR KORMÁKUR / SCREENPLAY: BALTASAR KORMÁKUR, ÓLAFUR EGILSSON / STARRING: BALTASAR KORMÁKUR, HERA HILMAR, GÍSLI ÖRN GARÐARSSON, MARGRÉT BJARNADÓTTIR / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10