Rapidly approaching her 15th birthday, Jill finds herself the reluctant head of her family. Her mother’s mental instability and unpredictability imposes responsibility beyond the teenager’s years as she takes on all the household chores while dealing with her mother’s self-destructive behaviour and looking after her younger brother Bo.
Jill’s estranged musician father visits for her birthday and brings with him a flamboyance that instantly attracts her away from the grim details of her current everyday life. But he too has issues, and these are drip-fed out as she gets closer to the man who selfishly disappeared from her life, proving that hope is a two-edged sword; without it we’re forced to face the stark reality of our lives, too much of it and we set ourselves up for a fall.
There are no real heroes or villains on show here, no polished cinema-fied versions of how people should or shouldn’t act, just the normal mix of the inspirational and dysfunctional which makes up the majority of our daft old race. Henriksen deals with mental health, alcoholism, suicide and self-abuse; a mixture which can soon become a little too harrowing to truly enjoy, but she peppers the narrative with small chinks of light which allow us to believe some good can come of it all.
Phoenix is beautifully shot by DOP Ragna Jorming and the odd moments of Del Toro’esque fantasy horror add to the unsettling lines of the story. The cast all excel; Thedin and Bonnevie in particular as Jill and her mother respectively, instantly combining to present the fractured but loving relationship.
In some way, Henrikson’s directorial debut is the Norwegian partner of Shane Meadows recent The Virtues; it’s horribly grim and without much prospect of a happy ending. It’s heartbreaking to witness the toll mental health problems have on those afflicted and family members in their near orbit, how all-encompassing it can be to deal with this all too common crisis. Phoenix is a tough watch, but invest in it and the characters will be swimming around in your head for a while to come.
Dir: Camilla Strøm Henriksen
Scr: Camilla Strøm Henriksen
Cast: Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Casper Falck-Løvås
Prd: Gudny Hummelvoll
DOP: Ragna Jorming
Music: Patrik Andrén, Johan Söderqvist
Run Time: 85 minutes
Phoenix is in cinemas now