One of the sly jokes underpinning this striking indie apocalypse: If everyone on Earth vanished while you were vacationing in Iceland, how long before you would notice? Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan’s subtly comic drama, shot with a gliding camera and a pleasing minimalist style, proceeds from that premise, stranding a toothsome young American couple in Reykjavik the morning after the night the rest of humanity blinks off this planet. Early scenes of our baffled travelers (played by Maika Monroe and Matt O'Leary) wandering through abandoned streets and squares prove eerie and impressive. The Americans, hoping that maybe things might get back to normal, spend the first night after the end has come in the hotel room they’ve already paid for. It’s a few days later that they move into some strangers’ home, raid a clothing store, borrow a high-end SUV, drink themselves silly at a bar. The script, by directors Orthwein and Sullivan, allows these two few moments, in the early going, to mourn their friends, families and aspirations. (One effective exception: Their realization that none of their social media feeds are updating, which is compounded by the disorienting fact that every website still up has yesterday’s content.)
A second joke, a better one, targets the solipsism of tourists. Turns out their experience of Iceland isn’t exactly ruined by lack of Icelanders. The couple get right into the swing of this curious afterlife, relishing the fact that Iceland’s geothermal generators have kept the power on, and for much of the film’s first hour, they treat the apocalypse as a gently troubling extension of their vacation, a couple’s retreat at the end of all things. The man continues to snap photos as they climb glaciers or traipse through wildflowers, and it’s all so beautiful that this proves more touching than funny. Would you be able to resist?
Instead, their first argument is Bokeh’s biggest laugh. The man can’t resist soaring through a grocery store on a cart; he crashes, injuring himself, and later, at a romantic dinner they’ve dressed up for, he resents her suggestion that maybe he should be more careful in a world without doctors. His riposte: “Can we just relax and enjoy this?” Later, as this lonely life wears on her, the couple air their different perspectives. Him: “We’ve got the world at our feet!” Her: “I just wanna go home.”
They can’t, of course. Without other people, how does one leave Iceland for the States? So, Bokeh lets them vacation on, with increasing solemnity, the island nation’s glories, so compellingly framed, enough to hold our interest, if not theirs. Toward the end, the filmmakers relent on all the grieving sightseeing and offer up a couple of plot developments, plus colloquies on matters geo- and theological. None of this proves as arresting as Iceland’s cliffs and horses, or those first moments of a city depopulated.