Starring Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Thor Kristjansson, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir
Directed by Óskar Thór Axelsson
First Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Rift, now Óskar Thór Axelsson’s I Remember You – Iceland is becoming quite the lush ground for genre experimentation these days (and bless the son of whatever Norse God for it). Both films share a common thread of existential, human drama that morphs into their larger ghost stories. Specific to I Remember You, Axelsson illuminates his judicial cold case under a paranormal light always meant to challenge slow-burn viewers along for the desperate ride. A father with a “lost” son, the theological legend, an abandoned town with nightly apparitions? Such is a ravaging emotional rollercoaster that takes viewers on a surreal and sinister ride, albeit one that undersells story but delivers on rooted fears.
Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson stars as Freyr, a psychiatrist who’s called in to evaluate a suicide crime scene. The corpse ends up being covered in carved crosses, suggesting some kind of cult activity. Could it have anything to do with Freyr’s missing/dead boy, Benni? What about Garðar (Thor Kristjansson), Katrín (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir), and Líf (Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir), all of whom experience a supernatural presence in their new joint fixer-upper? As Freyr’s investigation bonds to these new homeowners, the craziest explanation starts to become the most rational. But what does it all mean?
That I won’t tell you, of course. I Remember You leans dependently on an intriguing dive into possible serial killers, urban legends and witnessed ghouls. It is, unavoidably, a crazed case of the daftest concoction coming true – but that’s what movies are for. To challenge our beliefs, normalcy and rationale. As other films may steer into causal realms of human killings, Axelsson leads viewers through the valley of death firsthand. Creeps meant to further a heartbreaking story, not just capitalize on cheap fears.
Freyr’s unsolved child disappearance grants Axelsson the power to evoke something more meaningful than jolts from behind a shadow. As Katrín, for example, encounters some kind of youthful form late at night, we wonder who it could represent. Then as Freyr inches closer to undead closure, meaning intensifies. A decades-old example of spiritual unrest collides with a modern-day parental nightmare under bone-crushing circumstances, terror always within territorial reach – but never acted on. Like Dearest Sister, like Rift, like so many drama-driven horror subversion of late, I Remember You invests in much more than predictable chills. Ready – and willing – to dip audiences into a pool of exasperation and trepidation.
On a cinematic scale, horror tropes are sidestepped by Iceland’s inherent production values. Scenic views of sprawling mounting regions and frostbitten fields showcase an isolated, abandoned vibe even in bigger cities, meaning locals are used to existing among lonesome surroundings. No cell reception on an island where only a few houses are scattered? Of course. You’re lucky to find a general store let alone cell tower. So, then, why live in the middle of nowhere? First, soak in all that natural beauty. Second, half the damn country is cliffs, crevasses and pools of water – the closest neighbor sometimes miles away. No need to force Freyr or the new-home crew into desolate circumstances – they’re used to it.
In performance, Jóhannesson’s tormented doctor so genuinely battles a mess of depression, positivity and post-tragedy hopelessness while still going all Sixth Sense. I’ll admit Guðmundsdóttir’s Katrín and her household provide a lesser source of intrigue – smaller scale spooked-out norms – but even then, fear is conveyed by imprisoned characters. Doubly so by Jóhannesson, whose professional duty clashes with personal horrors. His character can’t help but break down at times, which the actor uses to strike sympathetic notes in reeling viewers. A very human pulse pit against lost souls and afterlife unrest.
Fans of more frantic horror tastes may be challenged here – story does become a bit crossed come an adjoining finale – but in all, I Remember You blurs the lines of true crime and ghost hunts with a lasting sting. This tragic collision of love lost, Icelandic landscapes and cursed terrorization with subtle unrest. Óskar Thór Axelsson reveals himself to be a very visual, cinematography-first filmmaker who can tell a story through many means – scares may be softened, but tension lurks like a boogeyman in the dark. Know that going in and you’ll be treated to dread, darkness and a story like a spear being driven into your heart; pacing and some muddied plotting the biggest complaints, but never serious enough to ruin an experience that does a far better job of ruining us.
I Remember You is a strong sophomore showing for Óskar Thór Axelsson, rife with dramatic sights and a tight control on carefully-leaked desperation. Might not be the most fast-paced haunted affair, but slow-burn fans are in for a crushing frozen treat.