Northern Comfort ramps up the fear of flying to dizzying, darkly comedic heights in the morally questionable, occasionally successful new flick from co-writer/director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson. Who doesn’t love a good yarn about a collection of strangers forced into a difficult scenario against their will? While the film may not be brimming with surprises, nor does it hold a candle to some of its far-superior brethren, I had a fun time with this oddball Icelandic delight.
Sarah (Lydia Leonard) wants nothing more than to please her family and actually fly with them. Thus, she finds herself in an extensive high-end fear of flying program, perfectly entitled, “Fearless Flyer.” When the competent, knowledgable instructor appears to be out sick and her much-lesser understudy, Charles (Simon Manyonda), arrives in her place, the stage is set for a disaster of epic proportions. There is a 1 in 12 million chance of a plane actually crashing, but some of the participants in this class seem very convinced the chances are significantly higher. Famous prize-winning author Edward (Timothy Spall), annoying influencer Coco (Ella Rumpf), and her app-inventing right hand man, Alfons (Sverrir Gudnason), round out the motley crew ready for their final challenge in the Fearless Flyer program.
A flight from London to Iceland is next on the agenda; turbulence and projectile vomit make sure the journey there is anything but magical. I was seeing this comparison made quite a bit on Twitter and Letterboxd, and I must concur: Northern Comfort is like a discount Triangle of Sadness/Ruben Östlund situation. Especially in its more bizarre moments and setup to getting its core characters to an unfamiliar destination, both films share similarities that paint Northern Comfort quite unfavorably in comparison. Still, once the group is privy to a 9-hour flight delay, and must seek a place nearby in the unforgiving Icelandic weather, the film moves and evolves in a surprising way.
Northern Comfort features some strange imagery, including but not limited to: the licking of a bald head, an icy stormy landscape, a flipped-over taxi, and a hotel-room booby-trap. However, it could have pushed the envelope far further than what is accomplished. The characters feel like hollow caricatures rather than fully-formed, and an eventual conclusion definitely feels half-baked and slightly underwhelming. When Northern Comfort works best, it lands the comedy in pristine fashion. Taking a plane to escape its charms will prove futile—in spite of some glaring flaws, Northern Comfort is an engaging effort that promises wild things ahead for Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson.
Northern Comfort screened at 2023’s SXSW Film Festival.