BFI London Film Festival 2016 Review: Pyromaniac
"Best to keep a safe distance"
, directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg, is a beautiful Norwegian drama that doesn't really know what to do with its fantastic setup.
The setting is a small, secluded village in Norway. The son of the chief of the fire department, Dag (Trond Nilssen) has a secret, unhealthy obsession with fire that slowly begins to spiral completely out of control. As the number of fires in the area grow exponentially, the locals have to accept the fact that the arsonist is one of their own.
The setup is brilliant and perfect for a chilling, paranoia-driven thriller. A small village, gripped with fear and with no one to turn to. People turning on each other out of desperation. The cold, isolated woodlands of Norway set the perfect tone and the movie's cinematography really brings out their beauty, as well as a sense of foreboding. The fires in this movie are magnificent. They come to life with a roar and cast a warm, threatening glow over everything - it makes for quite a sight.
The problem with Pyromaniac
is that it just kind of moves along with a dull pace, never really doing anything particularly interesting with this ingenious setup. We know right from the start who the arsonist is, which immediately takes away any sense of mystery or suspense. We see the people of the village being paranoid, but it doesn't really amount to much. The conflict and drama are too minimalist and contained.
Nilssen is believable as the unstable Dag - he captures the yearning of the character that only the thrill of starting fires seems to resolve and has a certain look about him that matches people's perception of what arsonists might be like. That being said, he's not particularly easy to relate to or sympathize with. Pyromaniac
infers to an extent that growing up around fires and his general social awkwardness contributed to his obsession, but doesn't explore the matter any further.
At the end of the day, this is a movie that doesn't really have a central conflict or hook. It's not really about understanding the inner workings of the mind of a pyromaniac, because it's too detached from its characters, and it's not about the suspense and tension of the situation, because it's too transparent. The ending is therefore appropriately abrupt and unsatisfying - the movie just reaches a certain point and kind of stops, almost like its shrugging.
Its disappointing because Pyromaniac
certainly has all the makings of a fantastic movie. The premise is great, the cinematography is excellent and the performances are good across the board, but the movie doesn't do anything with those ingredients. They're just there, moving along for the duration of the runtime.