Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I was looking forward to On The Ice after previewing it at Sundance earlier this year, plus the fact that it's set in one of my favourite places - Alaska. Beauty and intrigue ahoy! Sadly that isn't what happened.

Best friends Qalli and Aivaqq live in a remote Alaskan town where there isn't much to do apart from hunt, drink, play cards and smoke. The two teenagers lead very different lives: Qalli has just got himself a place at University and a way out of this desolate existence; Aivaqq has just got his girlfriend pregnant and must now prepare for fatherhood. After a trip out on the ice the morning after a big party, a fight erupts between Aivaqq and mutual friend James, and in self defence and protection, Qalli accidentally kills James with a knife. Aivaqq, stunned after James attacked him with a shovel, comes to and believes it is him who fatally stabbed their friend. Panicking, the two decide to dispose of James' body under the ice and head back to the town to say there has been an accident. As the townsfolk - meagre in these parts - grieve over the death of such a young boy, Qalli and Aivaqq must keep their story in order and cover their tracks, in case anyone, such as Qalli's father or James' girlfriend, should suspect otherwise. And then there's also the pressure of the guilt...

...that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park which is a quiet little gem. But this is very poor. The idea was executed clumsily and without much conviction and the characters weren't particularly engaging either. But the biggest problem of all was, with this type of film, so much emphasis needs to be on the inner struggles of the people affected by this 'tragedy' and the acting needs to be powerful and expressive, enough to stir the audience and showcase their thoughts and feelings in small actions, small movements. But the acting was horrible. Yes they are all first timers, and locals, but is this really the best the casting agent could do? Aivaqq in particular is wooden as a stump. Is it so cold they can't relax and live the lines they're reading? If it's a study in grief Qalli seems more pre-occupied than wracked with pain.

You don't get a great sense of the town either - just hints of a community. There should have been more of a focus on James' family before the killing, more of a build up to how these events would shatter the town. The 'singspiration' to unite the family members was a nice inclusion but there wasn't enough time to linger.

The best bit of the film by far is when Qalli's father discovers the badly hidden body, and demands to know the truth - Qalli is forced to admit to him - and to Aivaqq - that he is the one who killed James. There's a moment of horrified recognition and resignation on his father's face, and for a second you think he's going to help them string out the lie to protect his boy. But surprisingly he gives him a choice, so he can decide for himself. He can either bring the body back to town and confess, or he can dispose of it properly. This monumental decision is then scuppered by Aivaaq who takes matters into his own hands, and so the ending of the film is ruined by a bad script. It had no effect on me whatsoever who ended up getting the blame or not - it fell flat.

Perhaps it was because I'd seen this story before that I expected more from it, and I wanted the white beauty of a snow capped land. On The Ice falls short on so many levels, I'm pretty disappointed with what we got.

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