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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Bokeh movie review: blurry, lonely lives at the end of the world

Bokeh red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A pretty blur of an apocalypse happens to pretty, blurry people in this dull SF drama. This end of the world brought to you by the Reykjavik Tourist Board.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big science fiction fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Bokeh is a photographic term that, to quote Wikipedia, means “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.” I suppose that the philosophical application of that could be something like: “Life is what is happening in the foreground, and all the stuff that’s out of focus behind you may be pretty but isn’t as important.” And I suppose that that is meant to be advice to — or a lesson to be learned by — Jenai (Maika Monroe: Independence Day: Resurgence, The 5th Wave) and Riley (Matt O’Leary: The Lone Ranger, In Time), an American couple on vacation in Iceland who wake up one morning to discover that, while they were asleep, everyone else on the planet seems to have disappeared. Everyone is just… gone. There are no bodies, but whatever happened, it was instantaneous: they find a car in the middle of a Reykjavik street that isn’t only running but is still in drive. They wander the city trying to find someone, anyone else, and wonder what happened: The Rapture? Aliens? Why were they left behind? Is God messing with them? They don’t ask any questions we haven’t heard in numerous similar science fiction dramas,tweet and they find no answers, except that it does appear that all of humanity has disappeared: the Internet is still working, though of course no sites have been updated, and live webcams are showing that public places all over the planet are absolutely deserted.

City so empty... but that sure does look like brake lights in the, er, bokeh.

City so empty… but that sure does look like brake lights in the, er, bokeh.tweet

With no planes flying, obviously, they can’t go home, so Jenai and Riley start to make a lonely life for themselves, living off the well-stocked supermarkets and automated geothermal power. The problem with Bokeh is that the stuff in focus, their new lonely little life, isn’t terribly compelling.tweet Debuting writer-directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan have nothing meaningful to say about Jenai and Riley’s predicament, and they find nothing even slightly diverting in their situation: their protagonists don’t run naked through the streets or joyride buses around the city or anything. (A tepid joyride by Riley in a supermarket wagon ends in a minor mishap that would appear to have put the kibosh on them trying anything fun afterward.)

Still, there are people who would be worth spending time with at the end of the world, even if they’re *ahem* just sitting around talking. Riley and Jenai are not these people. Forget about them going wild, or whatever: they barely even seem capable of thinking about going wild, or whatever. (The craziest thing they do is move out of their hotel into someone’s very nice apartment. Then they play Monopoly. Really.) Riley and Jenai are also seemingly incapable of having fascinating existential breakdowns: just imagine thinking you were the only people on the planet. Not much in the way of engaging angst emanates from them, though.

Riley and Jenai are perhaps the least interesting companions you could have for an apocalypse.
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Jenai in particular seems to have no inner resources at all: she could spend days and weeks reading literally anything (there are hella cool bookstores in Reykjavik, and plenty of English-language books; shit, you could even learn to read Old Norse with nothing else to keep you busy), but she longs for a book she left at home, that specific copy, for reasons purely sentimental. Riley is a photographer, and he keeps taking photos with his odd retro film camera that will never be developed, which is perhaps meant to represent some sort of hope, or some sort of… something? — it’s not really clear what. These two are perhaps the least interesting companions you could have for the apocalypse. Why are we spending this time with them, Bokeh?

Bokeh certainly loves the bokeh of Iceland: the film serves nicely as tourist-board porn for Reykjaviktweet and the surrounding countryside. But Jenai and Riley are themselves never much more than a pretty blur, either.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.



red light 2 stars

Bokeh (2017) | directed by Geoffrey Orthwein, Andrew Sullivan
US/Can release: Mar 24 2017 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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