Breaking Surface is a tightly woven 80-minute breathless diving disaster that explores an awkward family dynamic put under a stress test. Two Swedish/Norweigan sisters go diving to escape the reality of their lives and end up in a race against time to save one another. There are a lot of dark blues and light greys in this underwater drama but it kept me entertained from start to end.
The disasters faced
Falling rocks and debris, solid glass windows, guard dogs, the bends, a lot of oxygen tank problems, fat fingers and a mother who doesn’t outwardly love her children equally.
Ida and Tuva are two sisters who live in a ridiculously beautiful mountain range with their mother Anne. As kids, Tuva nearly drowned and in a spiteful burst of anger Anne screams “if Tuva dies it’s all your fault!”. This incident drives a wedge between Ida and Anne, who then proceeds to become closer with Tuva as Ida removes herself from the family dynamic a bit.
Zooming forward to the present day, the three are getting together for a diving trip. Tuva is a professional diver full of flair and confidence whereas Ida is a doting mum but in a strained marriage. Anne is still not as connected to Ida as she is to Tuva but as she has a rotten cold, she backs out of the dive and stays at home. Tuva and Ida drive off into the mountains for a dive in a spot Tuva and Anne previously have explored. Along for the ride is adorable dog Knut too. As they prepare to leave the diving chamber, a rock slide from above causes a giant rock to smash into the sea and pin Tuva to the surface floor. With Tuva now trapped, Ida has to think on her feet about how to keep her sister alive.
Firstly, she’ll have to get new oxygen tanks to her in time but as some of their tanks are buried under the rockslide, she’ll have to break into Tuva’s car. It’s here she discovers a map with a house a mile away and so once the initial oxygen shortage is sorted, she decides to make a run for the house. What’s there isn’t quite what she was hoping for and so after returning again in a panic, she neglects to take safety stops on her return dives to the surface to keep Tuva alive.
Breaking Surface drops little seemingly inconsequential decisions for Ida and Tuva around you that slowly culminate over a period of time. Between Tuva’s planning actions, Ida’s panicked decisions and lingering memories of that childhood incident, we end up in a place where Tuva is still trapped by now Ida is suffering from decompression issues. Who, if either will survive?
Why is it worth watching?
As I mentioned earlier, this film has a constant build-up of decisions that as a viewer, you think ‘oh that’s going to be a problem later’. Crucially they don’t feel like stupid decisions though as the sisters are often between a rock and a hard place – literally for Tuva. The beauty here is that some of the problems are really simple ones like trying to open a car bonnet or patching up a ripped scuba suit with what you can find. There’s a survival instinct and Ida, who starts off lacking confidence ends up growing into a fierce warrior – so much so that she ends up putting herself in mortal danger time and time again. It is through great character progression that the film rewards you and the sisterly bond – which was always there from the start – just grows new level of respect over the film.
The acting is great too. Both characters bounce between pure frustration, rage, anger, and panic only to realise that these emotions only burn the oxygen quicker. It feels like a cool facade is playing out that is always on the edge of breaking. The other thing I want to shout out to is the stunning location filming. I don’t know where they filmed the exterior shots but the mountain ranges are absolutely superb. They are beautifully shot too and so are all the diving pieces. Often there are wide shots that show the verticality of the dive down, or you’ll have Ida entering the shot from different perspectives to show how lost you can feel. It is subtle but it adds a lot to the general isolation the film gives. I also appreciated the film spends very little time on sentimentality. Air is running out, there’s no time for giant monologues!
Both Ida and Tuva are likeable leads in very different ways. Tuva is basically a down-to-earth Lara Croft of diving who thrives on an adventure without coming across weirdly. Ida is more family-driven but comes with a lot of emotions. The two complement each other well. Anne is only in the opening 15 minutes before the sisters go off on their adventures but her impact is felt throughout the film as her declaration of “it’s all your fault” is the weight that keeps dragging Ida back down again into panic and indecisiveness at times. Also, Knut is just adorable.
Are you giving up too?ida to knut as even the dog lays down looking very tired and sad
Three memorable moments
- Idea breaking into the house to call for help and having to defend herself when she gets inside.
- The various moments when Tuva tells Ida to save herself and leave Tuva behind as the oxygen runs out.
- The opening scene of Tuva cleaning out a ship propeller and the engine turns on. I genuinely thought she was a goner as it was her first scene so I didn’t know she was a main character!
The obligatory weird moment
The vast majority of Breaking Surface makes a lot of sense to me however there is one specific thing I scratched my head on. The car boot (trunk for Americans). Inside the car boot is a car jack for Ida to use to lift a rock and get more oxygen tanks and potentially lift the rock trapping Tuva. Not only can Ida not find a button to open it, she also doesn’t smash the car window to get in or use the stick to press the button through the back seat gap. It has plot gravitas later but it felt like the only time in the movie where I was thinking “try this, try that”.
The drinking game
Mountain range screensaver porn.
I really enjoyed Breaking Surface. At 80 minutes, it keeps things tight, direct and pacey. New situations and problems occur constantly and so you are never left bored or in a lull because Tuva is always about to need a tank change or Ida is going to get stuck in a situation. It’s a bit like an underwater Buried and that’s not a bad thing. Enjoyable.
Rating: 3/5 Good
If you enjoyed Breaking Surface, then you may like:
- Sanctum – a lot less heart but it is an underwater diving/cave explorer movie with big effects that picks off its cast like a slasher movie
- The Last Descent – a very claustrophobic movie about being wedged firmly inside a cave with no escape
- The 33 – about real miners stuck underground rather than underwater but the air is equally becoming a problem for them over time
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