A woman with amnesia and a deep seated fear of losing custody of her young son begins to rebuild long-repressed memories of her childhood. Quake presents a chilly mystery from snow-covered Iceland.
In the opening scenes of Quake, we meet Saga (Anita Briem) in a bright red coat, which stands out from the stark snow and grey buildings of her Reykjavik surroundings. The camera remains static as she and her six-year-old son wander through the park, but her brightly coloured coat means she’s easy to spot. Soon after that, Saga unexpectedly suffers a strong epileptic attack leaving her with severe memory loss, and as she wakes, the camera shakily follows her as she frantically bursts into a drinks party, desperately looking for her son. Waking later in hospital, Saga fears that if she admits to remembering nothing, her son will be removed from her care.
And so the first part of the film continues with the audience watching Saga as she gradually works out that the people coming to her apartment to help her are her parents, her sister, her husband, and she starts to understand the complicated relationships around her. But as these pieces begin to fall into place, her longer-term memory unearths darker events from her childhood which she has seemingly repressed, and this becomes the focus of the second part of the story.
Based on the novel Grand Mal/Quake: A Novel, by Icelandic author Audur Jonsdóttir, the screenplay has been adapted and directed by Tinna Hrafnsdóttir who also plays Saga’s older sister Jóhanna. Quake is more mystery than thriller, with the moments of tension handled deftly by Hrafnsdóttir to bring the audience into Saga’s world and her gradually returning memories, and piece things together at the same pace as Saga herself.
In a tale where both memory and relationships are brittle and fractured, the snowy landscapes of Iceland are a highly fitting backdrop. Despite Saga’s memory loss, there is always a lingering sense that things are being concealed and that, as when faced with a huge pile of snow, we have to dig deep to find out. In the end, viewers are asked to consider whether parents, particularly mothers, can be too protective of their children and whether that ends up with deeper consequences for all.
It’s a slightly different take on the standard Nordic crime story in that there is no police investigation into events, but viewers who enjoy mysteries set in the snowy northern countries will most likely enjoy deciphering the puzzle.