The Burning Sea, 2021.
Directed by John Andreas Andersen.
Starring Kristine Kujath Thorp, Bjørn Floberg, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Henrik Bjelland, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Anneke von der Lippe, Ane Skumsvoll, Christoffer Staib, Cengiz Al and Nils Elias Olsen.
An oil platform dramatically goes down on the Norwegian coast, and researchers try to find out what happened when they realize this is just the start of something even more serious.
Cinematic eco-disaster specialists (if there’s such a thing) Lars Gudmestad and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg have managed to successfully balance big-screen thrills and effective character development in their previous two blockbuster epics The Wave and The Quake. Their latest warning to us all, The Burning Sea, finds the writers reteaming with the latter’s director John Andreas Andersen to see if they can juggle thrills with oil spills, all whilst making us care about the roll-call of characters placed in dangers way.
Utilising the less-is-more approach, The Burning Sea gets off to a really promising start, both in terms of establishing character and creating a burgeoning sense of doom. We’re introduced to our lead Sofia (an engaging Kristine Kujath Thorp) as she ghosts around her partner’s home, reluctant to leave her toothbrush in the bathroom, straight away indicating commitment issues that we can come back to when the proverbial hits the fan later on. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but there’s not going to be a Michael Bay power-ballad to introduce-the-characters montage here.
A similar drip-feed tactic is applied to the action, which is more The Abyss than Armageddon, with incidents happening off-screen or over the radio increasing the tension in a much more effective way than a straight-out-the-gates CGI explosion would. It feels very real world and creates a sense that we’re building towards something, which for a while is authentically terrifying.
However, the burning issue with the film is that it gets bogged down in such tedious build-up for way too long, with a lot of the action playing out on laptops with ominous music as a substitute for action, and characters you’d hoped would be intriguing, in fact turn out to be as dull as the smoke filled skies above the North Sea.
The central relationship between Sofia and Stian is never afforded the same amount of time as that given to the lines and lines and lines of expository dialogue churned out during the kind of scenes that are crying out for some Billy Bob-Thornton overacting. Instead of using the calm before the storm to generate some chemistry between the leads, so you actually gave a hoot about them when things begin sliding into the ocean, we simply get endless scenes of people just sat around listening to information, so-much-so that The Burning Sea may as well have been an audiobook.
Even when a rescue operation does get underway, the oil rig workers are essentially Star Trek redshirts. It feels like a real missed opportunity not to have focused on at least a few of them in order to add some dramatic weight to the action. A last ditch phone-call to a loved one awaiting news, or a heart-breaking scene in which somebody clutches a photo of their kid wearing a baseball mitt. Sure, they would be the kind of clichés reserved for A Perfect Storm or Deepwater Horizon, but it’d work a darn sight better than what happens here, especially considering those performing the rescue aren’t that interesting themselves.
What remains undeniable is just how good The Burning Sea looks. It all feels very Paul Greengrass with the way the action is framed, and on a couple of occasions it makes great use of the claustrophobic oil rig settings.
This starts out as an engaging antidote to your typical Hollywood disaster movie before slowly subsiding under the weight of reams of exposition and a collection of dull characters, so-much-so that not even a thrilling final twenty minutes can save it from sinking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter