Written for RAF News April 2014
Based on the events that took place in the early 80s, when huge oil deposits were discovered in the North Sea, we follow the team comprised of competing Norwegian and American divers who must build a pipeline at never-before reached depths.Determined Norwegian diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) and his machismo brother must work with a team of Americans who are in on the deal. Joined by a competitive American diver (Wes Bentley) they undertake a series of tests and trial dives. The initial test involves undergoing pressure changes whilst under an anaesthetic gas – soon revealed to cause hallucinations. So when his brother is involved in a fatal accident during the first test dive, Petter is plagued by uncertainty as he aims to find the cause of his death and the truth behind the gas formula concocted by the powers above.
Pioneer takes on the style of a 70s American political thriller with slowly unfolding conspiracy dragging Petter into the depths of paranoia. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg’s debut film Insomnia (remade by Britain’s own Christopher Nolan) built tension through paranoid hallucinations – but clearly favouring the style of the political thriller these delusions are disappointingly reduced to a few subtle tweaks in Pioneer.
It is the subtlety and slow pacing that seem to unite the Scandinavian style of cinema with classic American thrillers such as The Conversation – which Skjoldbjærg states among others as a major influence. The underwater scenes serve perfectly as an extension of the slow tension building pace. With beautiful use of scale and light Petter clings to his ‘umbilical cord’ that keeps him from being engulfed by the black abyss of the North Sea.
Despite the aesthetic accomplishment of these scenes, and the masterfully crafted score which communicates the claustrophobia and pressure of the environment, the understated drama plays out for the most part above water. As a result the film lulls between dives – ultimately detracting from the drama at the heart of the story.