Russia (2019) Dir. Tigran Sahakyan
It seems our friends over in Putin-land are trying their best to keep up with western genre cinema recently, branching out from the usual socio-political dramas and dipping their toes in other areas. We’ve had action thrillers, war epics, even superhero films, now we have a Soviet disaster movie!
To celebrate New Year’s Eve, a group of friends on holiday at a ski-resort – Katya (Irina Antonenko), her boyfriend Kirill (Andrey Nazimov), Vika (Ingrid Olerinskaya), her boyfriend Denis (Denis Kosyakov) and Roma (Mikhail Fillipov) – decide to make the evening memorable by having a party at the top of a mountain. This means bribing the caretaker (Vladimir Gusev) to let them ride the cable car after it has been shut down for the night.
As Kirill had left an important bag behind he didn’t join the others in the cable car, which is just as well as a brief power outage caused it stop half way. The caretaker tries to fix the problem but is killed in an accident leaving the group stranded in mid air. They have their party anyway and decide to wait for help in the morning, but when it doesn’t come, they try to escape the cable car under their own mettle.
For some of you, the plot of Break may echo that of a 2010 US film Frozen (not Disney’s one, unless I missed the talking snowman here) which I’ve not seen so there will be comparisons made in this review. Unfortunately, that didn’t stopped Tigran Sahakyan and his writers from mining every other disaster thriller for their clichés and plot beats, but as the film is only 81 minutes, it doesn’t stay around long enough to cause offence.
Equally detrimental to the experience through this swift runtime is the flimsy character development or lack thereof; much like many US teen slasher horror movies, they begin as an obnoxious bunch of genre tropes more likely to have the audience wanting them to fall to their deaths instead of willing them on to survive. The opening act clumsily lays the foundation for the drama with some rushed exposition that requires context which is never given.
With two couples making up the group and one gooseberry, the direction of the story is rather easy to predict. The basis for the central emotional leverage is found with Katya and Kirill, two people revealed to be on different pages regarding their relationship. Via a Facetime phone chat, Katya confesses to a friend that she was planning on ending it with Kirill and in the New Year will abort the baby she had just discovered she is carrying.
Kirill meanwhile, has champagne, flowers, and an engagement ring to present to Katya, which she finds whilst going through the bag Kirill left behind that prevented him from joining the ride. He did ask Katya to go with him but she stroppily and defiantly refuses, encouraging teasing from the others. And this is the girl he wants to marry?
Once the others are up in the air, Kirill tries to make contact but is ignored, leaving him so infuriated he decides to wait until the next morning, quietly hoping Katya has come to her senses. Fat chance of course, as she and the others are living it up 11,000 feet in the air not even missing Kirill, despite the cable car being immobile and the convenient threat of a heavy snowstorm due to hit the mountains.
Meanwhile, everybody is oblivious to the poor caretaker hanging lifelessly from the huge winch system via his scarf caught up in the wheel, and the steel rod he was holding wedged between the wheel and rut. It’s a contrivance for sure but top marks for trying something different and new rather than someone walking away and the machine failing on its own accord.
Not that the day shift workers are so concerned that they bother to find out why the cable system is down – that waits until the dramatic final act naturally. And who is the catalyst for getting these people to act? Yup, Kirill. Since it would be no good to kill everyone off and disaster films requires a happy(ish) ending, we have no choice but to run with this, working on the assumption that love conquers all – that is if Katya realises she was about to dump a decent bloke.
Before then she has to contend with Roma being a complete tool and endangering their lives by throwing his bulk about and starting fights with everyone, expected fatalities, and diminishing resources to keep the cabin warm, and lit. With Roma established as the antagonist and Katya the selfish one, what about Denis and Vika? Well, Vika has blue hair and erm… that’s it really.
The drama and thrills pick up a little when the escape attempts begin, but with little time to make them truly suspenseful their haste becomes their downfall. Had the film been twenty minutes longer Sahakyan might have been able to create some edge of the seat tension, alas it was not to be. Some moments work very well, some are a bit silly but the absence of any connection to the characters makes their plight hard to care about.
Coupled with some average CGI, only minimal excitement is felt when things start to south in a hurry. On a positive note, the camerawork is generally good and the cast at least try to make something of their flat characters, Irina Antonenko standing out, but only because she is given the most to work with, and Mikhail Fillipov as the thuggish Roma.
It feels a bit churlish to be so hard on Break as it is an earnest effort and passes the time if you don’t want to watch anything challenging. It could have been much better with more time to flesh out the characters and create some more daring escape scenes. Not a complete disaster but … (insert your own joke here)