Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime… and this week our pick catches our eye all the way from Norway with the promise of action, adventure, and Escape.
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
Sometimes you want a film that features a dense plot, rich character work, and an ever-evolving narrative. Maybe you even prefer a title layered with meaning and insinuation. But sometimes, just sometimes, you’d prefer 78-minutes of thrills, beautiful visuals, and adrenaline wrapped up with a title as straightforward as it is short and directed by the best-named filmmaker in the business. Well strap in, people, because this week’s slice of Prime Sublime entertainment fits the latter bill. Prepare yourself for 2012’s Norwegian adventure, Escape.
What’s it about?
Norway in the 14th century is every bit as grimy, grim, and devastated by the Plague as the rest of the world. Ten years after that Black Death swept the globe, though, life goes on. Signe (Isabel Christine Andreasen) is a teenager traveling with her parents and younger brother, but that life of hers changes in an instant when bandits kill her parents and show an equal lack of mercy to young Tormod. The group’s leader, Dagmar (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), spares Signe’s life — for a purpose — and they take their new prisoner with them back to their camp.
Signe isn’t the only child they’ve abducted. A younger girl named Frigg (Milla Olin) is a recent acquisition, and Dagmar dotes on her as if she was her own. The reason Signe was kept alive quickly comes apparent — as Dagmar can’t have kids of her own, and little Frigg wants a younger sister, the idea is that the men in the group can father a child with Signe. Frigg wants no part of this and tries to free Signe, but when her effort is interrupted the two girls race off into the unknown with Dagmar and friends in cold pursuit.
What makes it sublime?
The simplicity here is notable, but while the result may be too slight for some that’s their loss. Escape delivers on its title with an energetic and thrilling adventure that keeps both adrenaline and suspense flowing. Director Roar Uthaug — yeah, the name never fails to impress — captures the action against the breathtaking visuals of Norway’s starkly beautiful landscape. There’s not a dull frame to be found, and the intensity stays heightened throughout its short running time. His later films (The Wave, 2015; Tomb Raider, 2018) lean heavier into visual effects, but while they’re present here the bulk of the thrills are nature-made.
Both Andreasen and Olin do great work as girls who refuse to be subservient to the whims of villains and an uncaring world. The pair are undeniably lucky at times in their fight against Dagmar and her men, but neither is portrayed as some kind of superhero. Their sex and size work to disarm the first enemy or two, but they also grow more confident and motivated as the chase continues. Their desperation meets their intelligence as they face one life and death encounter after another.
Thomas Moldestad‘s script offers up a tight adventure, but that doesn’t prevent it from finding inspirational themes in its characters. Signe begins the film convinced that she’s incapable of much — blame both the patriarchy and the Black Death for her lack of optimism — but her intense journey teaches her how wrong that was. Frigg, meanwhile, has trust issues that are brought under control through her growing sisterhood with Signe and confirmed when the older girl returns to save her.
They’re the heart of Escape, but it’s hard to beat Berdal’s Dagmar when it comes to charisma and bad-assery. The actor is best-known to many as Westworld‘s Armistice, although some of us know her from Uthaug’s terrific mountain slasher Cold Prey (2006) and its sequel. She’s an actor as capable of emotion and nuance as she is physical intensity, and it’s all on display here. Dagmar’s a villain with an engaging and heartbreaking back story, and while it doesn’t excuse her actions it does afford them more understanding.
As mentioned, the bad guys make some mistakes and assumptions along the way which in turn aid the girls and their escape attempt, but the actions never feel unbelievable necessarily. They are suffering from some truly laughable peripheral vision, though, which saves their quarries’ lives more than once. But hey, they probably had Black Plague in the eyes. The film’s speed and brevity leave little room for momentum-halting issues, and instead it races forward to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion.
And in conclusion…
Escape sees its protagonists pushed to their limits, and their presence as young girls can’t help but increase viewers’ concern for their well-being. Rather than feel exploitative, though, the film prioritizes adventure and delivers it in rousing form from start to finish. Yes it’s slight when compared to weightier, denser fare, but if you have 78-minutes to kill you can’t go wrong with a little Roar.