26 Apr 2022
William Ferdinand Hansen, Ronar Rødberg Evanger
In Norway, a man struggles to come to terms with the ailing health and memory of his father whilst also trying to figure out his own place in the world – if indeed he still exists within it.
Limbo, from film-maker Arin Aksberg-Kristensen is a long, slow-burn of a movie, despite only being thirteen minutes long. It takes an age to fade up from black and uses post-rock soundscaping to create its ominous atmosphere long before any plot is exposed. When we do get to the characterisation and dialogue, they are used sparingly, with short declarative sentences being the order of the day. The cinematography keeps things in black and white to enhance the ethereal feel while the aspect ratio shifts to signify that everything may not be as it seems. This, is Scandi-noir at its most basic.
Produced by the Arctic University of Norway, Aksberg-Kristensen seems to have leaned on the Scandinavian greats to create his vision of Limbo. There are more than shades of Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) at play here, with the plot revolving around Lukas (Hansen) trying to stave off death while he gives himself some time to figure things out. Scenes are punctuated with moments of black static to further increase the feeling of an unwaking nightmare and there's some clever use of repetition and character switching to keep the audience guessing.
Technically, Limbo is well put together with the music (also by Aksberg-Kristensen) and sound editing working well with the images on screen. There are plenty of slow moving pans and dynamic shots which give the feel of being an anonymous observer to Lukas' story, while a few quick cuts and camera tricks remind us that there is another level to what's going on.
Ultimately though, Limbo ends up feeling rather slow and empty. There is very little characterisation as to just who Lukas, or the people in his life are, and the minimal conversations that are included come across as either banal or confusing. The Limbo in which Lukas supposedly exists may be one of death, or of impotence in the face of his father's decline, but this never becomes clear, even in what is apparently the film's resolution.
There may be those who find Aksberg-Kristensen's film intriguing or fascinating but there is too little here that is anything new and it takes a long time for an awful lot of nothing to happen. There are plenty of ideas borrowed from other slow-burning, thoughtful movies but here they don't get the space to breathe or the right level of exposition to truly create something unique. Of course, in Limbo, the overall sense is one of not getting anywhere, but in film it's not a particular feeling that an audience enjoys. Treading water is just not the way to go.