Erik Poppe’s U – July 22 is a visceral, brutal, yet heartfelt and earnest movie, which imbibes the innocent bewilderment and horror of its young characters. On one unbroken camera take, it seeks to recreate the horrific mass murder of 69 defenceless teenagers in Norway in 2011 at a socialist youth summer camp at Utøya island outside Oslo. The heavily armed killer was a rightwing race-hate terrorist who had detonated a bomb in Oslo itself earlier in the day.
Poppe’s camera situates itself among the nervous teens at the camp just by a forest and a lake – nervous, because they have just heard about the Oslo bombing and are earnestly discussing it. They are not, in fact, like those eerily unaware future victims of Paul Greengrass’s 9/11 drama United 93 or Gus Van Sant’s school shooting nightmare Elephant whose ordinary lives we see blankly unfolding at first as the calamity draws invisibly closer.
And after 72 minutes – the length of the ordeal in real life – the gut wrenching action of the film is at an end. It feels simultaneously much shorter and much longer than 72 minutes. It is an absorbing and moving tribute to the courage of the young victims of Utøya.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian