What could have been a drawn out endurance test similar to 127 Hours and Buried, in which the protagonist spends the majority of the film in life-threatening peril in a single location, is instead a far more measured re-telling of events. Split into three distinct acts, Kormakur spends as much time showing the build-up and aftermath as the actual accident. In the calm before the storm there are glimpses into life on Westman Island – a community built around an active volcano – and the homes of the fated crew. These moments are well-observed and heart-felt, setting up a good dynamic amongst the sailors, and making it all the more harrowing when disaster strikes. The after-effects of the tragedy leave a whole community devastated, but there are wider ramifications too. Some view Gulli’s ordeal as an act of God, others see him as a medical oddity, raising larger questions of faith versus science.
Between the tender moments of the film’s bookends, there is of course the shipwreck itself. It is an event that swells over the crew and audience alike. A trivial error with the fishing nets quickly escalates into a full blown capsizing – barely giving the fishermen time to take a breath before being plunged into the freezing Atlantic. It is a gripping experience as Gulli desperately attempts to save his colleagues, battles the hypothermic conditions, and frantically paddles for shore. It is enough to send chills down the spine, with the tension being intercut with flashbacks to his childhood, and a beautiful sequence in which he fantasises about how he would spend his last day on Earth. Filled with striking images and strong performances throughout, The Deep is a fine balancing act of grueling drama and poetic moments making it a must-see at this year’s festival.