Review: The Deep (12A)

True-life stories of survival against the odds are universal tales. They need neither dialogue nor subtitles. Just the elements, extremes of heat and cold, the earth, the sea and a driving will to live.

The story of Gulli, an Icelandic fisherman plunged into the freezing waters of the Atlantic when his trawler went down in 1984, is told with a tremendous sense of isolation and despair by Baltasar Kormákur.

And it is through the eyes – and skin – of actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson that we come to feel the iciness of his predicament as he drifts, alone and helpless, in the open water.

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The Deep has a feel of The Perfect Storm. But there is no sense of a handsome hero here. The boat is a rusty old bucket. The cook is a landlubber. And it is merely luck that allows Gulli to escape the boat as it goes down. Heroism doesn’t come into it.

A surprisingly short film it nonetheless piles on the emotions as Gulli floats along, alone with his thoughts and feelings of guilt as he thinks of his shipmates lost in the Davy dark.

And this is a film that feels cold. It permeates every frame as Kormákur paints a portrait of the grey ocean.

One scene stands out in a terrific biopic. Gulli reaches an island but cannot climb the steep cliffs. His only option is to go back into the water. Smashed against the rocks, he drags himself to dry land and across jagged volcanic rocks that slash his feet.

He cuts a bizarre figure as he stumbles across the landscape, heading for home.

Gulli is a fascinating figure. He survived because his body shape allowed him to retain heat.

He is something of a national hero for Icelanders. And this peculiar, compelling film only serves to underline that.

On limited release