Film Review: BokehA contemplative Malick-like drama that leans heavily on its Iceland locations and the genuine chemistry between its two young actors.
The thought of waking up one day and realizing you’re one of the last people on Earth is something that has haunted many a dream and nightmare while also being explored quite extensively in many genres, from horror to comedy. While the disappearance of the Earth’s population has sometimes been explained as the biblically predicted Rapture, it can also be used as the basis for some of the best science fiction.
Filmmakers Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan don’t attempt anything too groundbreaking with their drama Bokeh, which follows a young couple—Jenai, played by Maika Monroe (It Follows), and Riley (Matt O’Leary from Brick)—who while on a romantic vacation to Iceland suddenly discover they may be the last two people on the planet.
After a couple of minutes watching this couple interact lovingly on vacation, the filmmakers quickly shift them into this journey with a flash of light that seemingly gets rid of everyone else around them. Granted, Iceland is a fairly remote location already, so the couple’s predicament might not have quite the same immediate impact as, say, the abandoned London of 28 Days Later or Tom Cruise wandering around a vacant Times Square in Vanilla Sky. Realizing they are indeed alone, the duo first try to figure out what happened to everyone else, then start taking advantage of the fact they have the place to themselves. There’s only so far you can get when all alone in a vast empty space like Iceland, and this situation begins to drive a wedge into their relationship.
If you’ve never had a chance to visit Iceland, it is simply one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As a filmmaker, you can literally turn your camera in any direction, and it will immediately up the production value of the movie you’re making. Having these two capable young actors interacting in this location is comparable to Craig Zobel’s recent Z for Zachariah, where putting a few great actors into a wide open space did wonders to make their dramatic interactions feel even bigger.
At times, Bokeh feels almost like a travelogue, with many scenes showing the characters in this gorgeous location, accompanied by an equally lovely contemplative score, which immediately reminds one of Terrence Malick’s work. Some may think that watching two actors walking around looking for signs of life and discussing same for the length of a movie might get dull fast, but the performers on which the entire film rests clearly have enough chemistry to help sell their believable relationship. O’Leary can get grating at times, especially when their quiet conversations escalate into him ranting and yelling, but Monroe continues to prove her mettle as an actress.
Eventually, they encounter an elderly local man (Arnar Jónsson) who is close to dying, which leads them into headier conversations about whether what happened might be an edict from God. The idea of the Rapture was covered quite extensively in the enormously popular Christian novel Left Behind—spawning many books and no less than two film adaptations—but it’s handled in a far less preachy or condescending way by these filmmakers.
Although the central idea might not be the most original, the film’s very title—Bokeh, a term defined as “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens”—gives you some idea the filmmakers were going for something more esoteric and potentially thought-provoking rather than clearly defining every moment and why events happened.
Ultimately, they’ve made a genuinely lovely film, a reflective character piece that’s relaxing to watch as its two main characters come to terms with their new normal.As with the best films of this nature, Bokeh leaves you thinking about what you might do if ever put in the same situation rather than offering easy answers, and even when things end suddenly, it leaves you even more shaken up.
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