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VOD Review: Euphoria

August 20, 2020

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

In writer/director Lisa Langseth’s film Euphoria, two sisters, Ines (Alicia Vikander) and Emilie (Eva Green), are travelling together through Europe. They have grown somewhat estranged since their rocky childhood, and are seeing each other for the first time in years.

The purpose of their trip, which involves going to a mysterious retreat centre where they are welcomed with open arms by an older lady named Marina (Charlotte Rampling), becomes the main focus of the film’s narrative as well as the source of its central drama and conflict.

Now comes the tricky part in writing about Euphoria. Everything I’m going to discuss is revealed within the first act, but it’s been strategically kept out of the official plot synopsis, so if you want to watch the film completely cold, you should stop reading now. Be warned that there are some very minor spoilers ahead…

You see, Grace is imminently dying of cancer and hasn’t told Ines, having previously been unable to get in touch with her artist sister who has stopped responding to her emails and calls. The “twist” is that the retreat centre is actually a place where people go to end their lives through assisted suicide, providing them with a place to enjoy their final days in peace, before a bell rings signalling that it’s their time to leave. Ines doesn’t approve of Grace’s choice to end her life this way, but is trapped there with her sister, forced to come to terms with her dying wish and try to make amends.

What follows is a slow-moving meditation on mortality that explores questions about choice and end of life care. But Langseth’s film never feels as impactful as it could have been. The film tries to set itself up as sort of a mystery, and the marketing has certainly sold it as such. But the characters arrive at their mysterious destination roughly fifteen minutes in, and we find out Grace’s true intention for the trip only a few minutes later, making the plot hardly a mystery at all.

We have barely even gotten to know them at this point, and Euphoria may have actually been wiser to tease out its mystery for a little longer while developing its characters. We find out bits and pieces about their backstory, but it never feels like enough to really know them. The film is also marked by some odd tonal shifts, including several moments when Grace lashes out violently and attacks Ines, indicative of a buried rage that is never really brought to the surface in a satisfying way.

The film, which actually premiered at TIFF back in 2017 as part of their juried Platform lineup and was subsequently released in Europe the following year, is finally reemerging for Canadian audiences with its digital release this week. This is one of those films that sort of disappeared into the ether following its first appearance on the festival circuit, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being a low-key film festival curiosity for die hard fans of Green and Vikander, Euphoria isn’t exactly the most accessible work both due to its subject matter and almost glacial pace.

The performances are largely decent, which is to be expected from actors of this calibre, and there is just enough intrigue at times to keep us watching. There are also some mildly affecting moments, with some of the film’s best scenes emerging through a subplot involving an elderly man (Charles Dance) who is also at the retreat centre to end his life. But it all amounts to something that is less than the sum of its parts. While Euphoria is not an altogether bad movie, it’s just a fairly dull and finally inconsistent one.

Euphoria is now available for rent and purchase on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by A71.

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