Like many of his European peers, Tommy Wirkola made a name for himself during the short but intense horror renaissance of the late 00s. And like many of his peers, he struggled to stay afloat once the interest in the genre subsided again. It's nice to see him bounce back, especially in the lap of Netflix, the streaming giant known for giving directors a little extra free rein. The Trip [I Onde Dager] is a true return to form for Wirkola and one of the finest black comedies I've seen in quite a while, though I'm not certain if that makes it an easy recommend.
There was a short but well-earned period when Norwegian horror was doing well for itself. Films like Cold Prey and Manhunt were traveling far beyond the Norwegian borders, and Tommy Wirkola played his part with his Dead Snow films. It's not that Norwegian horror had a particularly strong or outspoken identity, but the desolate and snowy scenery sure made for a great setting to have whatever topical horror creature run around in and wreak havoc. The Trip doesn't really hark back to those times, but Wirkola's horror background does come in handy.
The Trip is a black comedy. The kind that starts off somewhat tepid, but keeps piling on the crazy. For me, the success of a film like this is highly dependent on how far a director is willing to take the premise. When the crescendo stops too soon or doesn't reach a sufficiently excessive climax, the entire film falls flat. And it's not that Wirkola goes completely overboard (this certainly wasn't one of the crazier films I've seen), but the build-up is pretty smart and pleasantly deceptive. Wirkola plays it pretty cool during the first third of the film, which makes for a good contrast with the second and final act.
Lars and Lisa are planning a weekend away from work to try and fix their marriage. Their relationship isn't doing too well, and a little retreat to Lars' father's cabin sounds like a good idea. Lars has other plans. He's been meticulously planning an assassination attempt on his wife. After a nice evening together, he finally gathers all his courage, but it turns out that he's not the only one with nefarious plans. Three escaped criminals are roaming the woods around the cabin, hoping to evade capture. Lars' gardener also shows up, and it turns out that his wife isn't all that innocent either.
Visually, it's not an exceptional film, though Wirkola makes sure everything looks polished and attractive. The camera work, use of color, the lighting, framing and editing are all pretty solid, with a handful of moments getting a bit of extra love. Being the style whore that I am, I would've preferred a more visually striking film, something that would've burned itself just a little deeper into my retinas, but it's not as if the film really demands it. The primary focus lies on the deadpan/black comedy, and the cinematography does its part to help it shine.
The soundtrack is on the same level, though I guess it stands out just a bit more because of a few local rock tracks being used. For the most part, the score consist of the usual horror fodder. Music to raise the tension and push people to the edge of their seat, without being too notable or distinctive. The Norwegian rock music is a welcome change of pace (certainly for someone who isn't Norwegian) and adds a bit of extra flavor, though I can't say the music itself was all that great. Wirkola deserves points for making the effort, even if the payoff isn't quite there.
With Noomi Rapace, Wirkola found a local (or local enough, as she's actually Swedish) talent with the proper star power to attract an international audience. Aksel Hennie has been trying to make a name for himself too, but with less success. They're both great here, with Hennie probably being the funnier one of the two. The rest of the cast is also great, portraying pretty cheesy and overdone characters with the necessary panache. There's a lot of winking and nudging going on, but that's what's needed when doing a black comedy like The Trip.
The first third of the film is excessively obvious, but deliberately so. It appears that Wirkola is simply bad at hiding the twists, but that's only a distraction to keep the audience from figuring out the twists and upsets further down the road. The middle part finally straightens out the narrative, leaving the finale to go completely mental. Whether this is a successful setup will depend a lot on what you crave from a film like this and how far you want it to go. Personally, I think Wirkola nailed it. The final third was gory, silly and cheesy enough to put a big grin on my face, which is what it's all about.
The Trip isn't a unique or particularly remarkable film, but it never aimed to be. This is genre work executed to perfection, made for people who love a good black comedy, nothing more, nothing less. Everything here exists in function of the excessive finale and the comedy drawn from the misery that befalls the characters. The styling is on point, the actors know what they're doing, and the film gets progressively crazier and dafter. This is everything I want from a good black comedy, and Wirkola's execution is spotless. A more than solid recommend if you like your comedy dark and bloody.