The Rift (original title Trhlina) is a mystery-thriller that follows a group of strangers visiting the Tribeč mountain range in Slovakia, investigating a series of mysterious disappearances that have occurred there. Directed by Peter Bebjak and adapted from a novel by popular Slovak author Jozef Karika, the fictionalised plot is based on real-life disappearances that took place at the location.
From the start, the film is effectively tense and unnerving, predominantly achieved through sound. The ominous sound design, often consisting of whispers and indescribable, auditorium-filling hums and other sounds is simple, yet effective. In fact, the film’s greatest strengths fall under the ‘simple, yet effective’ category; the musical score, the sound mixing (which can sometimes best be illustrated as ‘audible silence’) and the imagery/visuals.
Bebjak effectively exploits viewers’ fear of the unknown, making the best of the production’s €609k/$700k budget. Through the on-location scenery (replete with barren winter trees) and the cinematography’s muted colour palette, the film maintains a continuous sense of uncertainty, threat and mystery. Lastly, the performances are (mostly) solid, with main characters who constantly disagree, and whose viewpoints and personalities complement each other, propelling the story forward as they continue to get lost.
The plot is told via flashback, with the protagonist (played by Matej Marušín) recalling the events to an author (portrayed by Juraj Loj). Unfortunately, this is where the weakest performances lie (though interestingly, Marušín’s performance is much better in the main plot scenes). With a few other examples of subpar line delivery and a heavy-handed piece of exposition about the protagonist’s financial status, some moments simply fall flat. A few of these occur towards the end of the film, which, while not compromising the rest of the film, do feel like a sudden drop in quality. Considering what the characters went through previously, some reveals regarding their fates feel forced, cheap, and ultimately not cathartic. However, this is somewhat compensated for by another reveal which is tragic, effective and satisfying.
It should be noted that the film was originally shot as a 3-part television miniseries and was edited into feature-film length (with the series to air later in 2019). While noticeable, this does not detract from the quality.
Effective, intense and engrossing throughout, The Rift is a solid effort from director Peter Bebjak. The film is a straightforward mystery-thriller that largely succeeds in what it aims to accomplish.
On a personal note, I would just like to express my appreciation for Odeon Edinburgh and all the other cinemas across the UK for screening this film. It’s truly fantastic to see UK cinemas screening foreign films for what is, at its core, a niche market, and I hope this moves Slovak film towards a bright, international future.
Image: Continental Film