Hlynur Pálmason’s feature debut examines the lives of Johan and his younger brother Emil, two miners whose routines, habits, and rituals are ruptured by a violent feud with a neighbouring family.
Shot in an eerie, near-apocalyptic industrial landscape, with a ferociously stylized aesthetic that suggests a surreal Dorothea Lange, Hlynur Pálmason's Winter Brothers examines the lives of miners in a remote region. Younger brother Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) and his older, less excitable sibling Johan (Simon Sears) — our ostensible heroes, Peckinpah's Gorch brothers reincarnated as wage slaves — are dominated by the company and the constant, deafening hum of the machines they effectively serve.
The miners live in prefab sheds seemingly held together by mould. Emil's only consistent outlets, besides forlornly pining for the lone woman in town, are watching an instructional video on how to properly shoot an antique rifle and the making, consuming, and selling of moonshine. That his latest batch may have made some of his fellow miners seriously ill only exacerbates his outsider status.
Where Winter Brothers is set is wisely never specified. The dire conditions the miners work under could be anywhere the prominent and greedy abuse the powerless — from Fort McMurray to a Soviet gulag to Trump's imaginary returning coal mines. The edgy political observations in the film would be more than enough to recommend it, but Pálmason's unique vision, fierce aesthetic, and eye for telling detail make it essential viewing. His fearless approach to the medium suggests similarities with some of the most promising, intriguing filmmakers working today, such as Ruben Östlund, Ashley McKenzie, and Kevan Funk.