There is really not too much to filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s new dramatic thriller “On the Ice.”
However, the unique pairing of this particular plot and this specific setting is enough to compensate for the story’s simplicity. After all, Alaska is the perfect place to reflect the chilly emotional journey that this movie’s characters are forced to take as a result of a tragic accident in which death is the consequence. One wonders whether their shivering is in response to the climate or the suspense.
In “On the Ice,” which opens today exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5, Josiah Patkotak and Frank Qutuq Irelan play Qalli and Aivaaq, two teenage boys who have grown up like brothers in Barrow, Alaska. Early one morning during a seal hunt, Aivaaq has an argument with another teenager that escalates into a tragic accident to which Qalli is a witness.
Bonded by their dark secret, the two best friends are forced to create one fabrication after another in order to survive. The shocked boys stumble through guilt-fueled days, avoiding the suspicions of their community as they weave a web of deceit. With their future in the balance, Qalli and Aivaaq explore the limits of friendship and honor.
Needless to say, we have seen variations of “On the Ice’s” plot before. Moreover, said variations took routes that are extremely different than the one that MacLean chooses here and, in turn, were far more creative and compelling as a whole. MacLean makes this more of a moral examination than anything, therefore it is not unlikely that you will ask, “That is it?” upon reaching the end credits.
On the other hand, that is not to say that “On the Ice” is even remotely boring. In fact, MacLean’s exploration of the ways in which this event is handled within the Inuit culture is fascinating if for no other reason than to see the similarities and differences to that of our own. Best of all, the filmmaker does not stereotype said culture nor rely on its novelty, as other recent movies set in Alaska have done.
Yet, it is the novelty of the setting that makes “On the Ice” worth seeing – and on the big screen so that you can take full advantage of the feelings that the frozen ocean’s wide open vistas afford. Had it been set in a location with less of a foreign feel, the story would have been too thin to stand the weight of the viewer’s expectations. However, the addition of the Alaskan landscape helps it all hold up quite well.
“On the Ice” (R – 96 minutes) opens today exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.