It seems churlish to complain that a 73-minute film overstays its welcome, but there’s no getting around the fact that Danish director Frederikke Aspock’s feature debut, “Out of Bounds,” isn’t much of a feature at all, but more of a slender short stretched beyond reason. Too flimsy to sustain its potential Bergmanesque aspirations and too ponderous to satisfy auds keen on more modern DIY relationship movies, this minor melodrama unfolds on a remote island whose only permanent resident is a surly artist less than enthused to be getting a visit from his pregnant daughter and her cold-feet fiance.
You wouldn’t guess from their first few scenes together that their relationship is anything but solid, but soon after the ferry deposits Oskar (Carsten Bjornlund) and Stella (Stephanie Leon) on the island than the cracks start to show. When Stella tells her fiance she is pregnant, he immediately tenses, asking her to hide the detail from the stern and intimidating Nathan (Jakob Eklund), who has withdrawn from society.
But secrets have nowhere to hide in such a barren environment, and Daniel Dencik’s script invites us to speculate what the various characters are hiding. The answer: not nearly enough. At times, “Out of Bounds” feels like a horror movie in which the ax-wielding killer never shows up, leaving auds with just another slumber-party movie in which the characters were never fully developed enough for us to root for their survival. There’s a menacing edge to Aspock’s direction that further fits the analogy, offset by a bizarre accordion-sounding score and odd use of zooms.
So seldom does Stella visit that it takes Nathan no time to deduce her motives, but instead of being supportive, he sees an opportunity to wedge his own misanthropy between the lovers. “No relationship can survive two abortions,” he tells Oskar, touching just the right nerve to set off the uneasy young man’s anxieties.
Oskar, who seems to be protecting himself from the possibility of getting dumped, has never given himself fully to the five-year relationship with Stella, but as Nathan intuits, this pregnancy will be the deciding factor in whether they can continue as a couple. Feeling his intimacy in question, Oskar immediately begins to act erratic, sneaking around the island, spying on Nathan and striking back by airing his own suspicions about the sore subject of Stella’s long-dead mother.
At 20 or even 40 minutes, this would be substance enough for a low-key character study. Aspock, a 2004 Cannes Cinefondation short-film winner who studied at NYU’s Tisch School, seems to recognize that auds expect more from a feature, however, playing up details that suggest a more conventional genre piece may be brewing: Oskar discovers a loaded shotgun in the outhouse, ominous ravens strut around Nathan’s cabin, and Stella agrees to pose for one of her dad’s nude portraits, which collectively seem to imply the hint of violence or incest.
Though the characters feel specific enough to engage our interest, the dramatics are so spare that we can’t help look to the crows, the island or even Nathan’s obedient black dog for deeper meaning (the latter gives the film its onscreen title, “Labrador”). In the end, it is only the Gotland location that distinguishes “Out of Bounds,” serving to isolate these characters and their hangups from the other social influences of their normal lives, in much the way a Mediterranean vacation tested the couple in Maren Ade’s far superior “Everyone Else.”