Monday, 25 August 2014


I love blindly buying a random film. Though it's certainly not something I can afford to do too often, blindly purchasing a film, book or game is something I do from time to time. It can help cut through preconceived notions of a film based on reviews, or even its cover art. I applied this patented (and potentially money wasting!) technique to Pioneer, a film that popped up on my radar. Without a single idea of what it was even about, I shoved it into my Blu-Ray player. So, here's how this session of “Movie Roulette” turned out...

Written and directed by Norwegian film maker Erik Skjoldbjærg, Pioneer is one of those films that will sadly go far below the radar of many, but really shouldn't. Skjoldbjærg is best known as the director of Insomnia, the 1997 film starring Stellan Skarsgård which was later remade into the 2002 Christopher Nolan film of the same name starring Al Pacino. He also wrote the script for the remake, and though he hasn't done much since then, his latest film, though it doesn't reach the heights of Insomnia, is a fantastic film in its own right. The film is partially based on real events. Set in the early 1980's amid the Norwegian Oil Boom, Pioneer begins with the discovery of oil beneath the floor of the North Sea. Knowing that the payday will be monumental, oilmen Peter, his brother Knut and Mike agree to lay a pipeline. However, a catastrophe occurs that results in the death of Knut. After returning to the surface, Peter begins to have hallucinations, and starts to question whether what happened 500 metres below the ocean was truly an accident. As his mind starts to unravel at the prospect of a huge conspiracy, the viewer must question Peter as much as Peter is questioning himself.

Pioneer is very much in the same vein as Insomnia, in the fact that as you watch it you're not exactly sure if the main character is a trustworthy narrator. Peter is erratic, trying to cope with the death of his brother, potentially suffering my some kind of neurological damage after the accident, and increasingly finding himself beginning to question everyone. This excellent dynamic is greatly achieved by actor Aksel Hennie, whose performance will leave the viewer constantly questioning whether there truly is any substance to his claims of a conspiracy. The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, but no one really stands out, perhaps apart from Stephen Lang, who most of us last saw kill Na'vi scum in Avatar. That said, there are no bad performances here at all, just ones that feel a little lacking compared to Hennie's.

There's a great sense of isolation in Pioneer too, both physically and psychologically. For instance, the underwater sections of the film are truly terrific, and despite it geographically being the complete opposite in every which way, the feeling in these scenes are rather reminiscent of Gravity, a world of endless exploration, yet painfully lonely. This then extends to the isolation Peter begins to feel once he makes it to the surface, and only manages to get worse over the duration of the film. Though it does tend to drag out a bit near the end, this sense of confusion, dread and danger throughout is really superb, and is something that makes Pioneer stand out among other films of the same genre.

Overall Pioneer won't win any Oscars, but if you're looking for a film similar to Insomnia, and a film that will really keep you questioning about what exactly is happening until the end, buy it. Backed up by a largely good cast, an effective script and visuals that sometimes look quite iconic, Pioneer is not to be overlooked.

Pioneer rises from the deep and gets a 4/5.


Denis Murphy

Pioneer at CeX

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