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The Anchorage

A premise that could easily support horror-movie cliches takes a decidedly anti-commercial approach to the material.

Cast:
With: Ulla Edstrom, Bengt Ohlsson, Elin Hamren, Marcus Harrling.

An experiment better suited to festivals than paying auds, “The Anchorage” employs a premise that could easily support horror-movie cliches — a hunter sets up camp on a remote Swedish island, making its solitary inhabitant nervous — but takes a decidedly anti-commercial approach to the material. Rejecting anything that might artificially enhance the subject’s appeal, photog Anders Edstrom (whose non-pro mother Ulla plays the lead role) and co-director C.W. Winter (a CalArts grad) forgo traditional narrative for a more detached observational style, making for an experience that proves trying as it unfolds but ripens in retrospect.

Set over the course of three days in late October, pic focuses on the repetitions and variations in the daily routine of main character Ulla, from her brisk morning bath to her errands in the nearby town. Intermittent snatches of narration help establish the tone but offer little insight into the actions onscreen; the same goes for bits of talk with her visiting children, except to reveal that life on the island (one of approximately 24,000 in the Stockholm Archipelago) is harder for Ulla since the recent death of her husband.

When the relatives leave, Ulla again plunges into solitude, aside from the presence of an outsider. Twice, the fluorescent-clad hunter (Bengt Ohlsson) passes close to the house. The first time, Ulla fails to notice him; the second, she retreats to the bathroom and hides until he’s gone. The two never speak, and while his presence surely marks a dramatic intrusion in her life, there’s nothing in the film itself to suggest danger of any kind.

Though intellectually rigorous, Edstrom and Winter’s aesthetic is a surefire recipe for boredom, challenging audiences to find a way to connect with material that makes no effort to engage them. For the most part, footage is grainy, the camera setups mundane.

The pair take greater care in capturing the aural side of any given scene, composing a rich Dolby soundscape to accompany visuals that, by the helmers’ deliberate decision, consist of the weakest take of any given scene; a bonfire photographed in a single, stoic long shot marks “The Anchorage’s” most exciting sequence. Elsewhere, the camera seems to lose interest in Ulla, as in a shot whose focal point drifts from the hardy widow walking through town to a forklift operating nearby.

Defined by all they leave out, the co-helmers’ puritanical sensibility (for which they won a Filmmakers of the Present prize at Locarno) is reminiscent of Dogma 95’s strict rules, and while that can be frustrating to watch, it’s also possible to lose oneself in the pic’s low-key rhythms. To its credit, the material does improve with a few days’ distance, as the uneventful film takes on the qualities of a relaxing vacation remembered.

The Anchorage

Sweden

Production: A General Asst. production. Produced, directed, edited by Anders Edstrom, C.W. Winter. Screenplay, Winter.

Crew: Camera (color, Super 16), Edstrom; sound (Dolby), Clancy Troutman; sound designer, Kento Oiwa. Reviewed at AFI Film Festival (World Cinema), Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2009. (Also in Locarno, Vancouver film festivals.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With: With: Ulla Edstrom, Bengt Ohlsson, Elin Hamren, Marcus Harrling.

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