After a banal period of scene-setting, from the unfortunate incident onwards Östlund takes pains to tighten the atmosphere exponentially - his cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel frames the couple in exposing two-shots whenever possible, allowing neither of them any place to hide. It's like Michael Haneke does cringe-comedy as Ebba's vexation escalates when Tomas refuses to admit the nature of his actions; two separate dinner dates end in uncomfortable bickering. Every day concludes with a recurring shot of the couple brushing their teeth in the mirror, and with each instance the animosity between them grows. The two leads are both exceptional in their roles, given really interesting developed characters to inhabit. Where the majority of the acting is naturalistic in keeping with the general aesthetic, they both also get moments to go overboard and heighten the audience's stress levels or have them guffawing in disbelief.
Both the bourgeoisie and ideas of masculinity are placed under the exacting microscope here, but the female players are also examined and Ebba is granted a moment of fantastically funny hypocrisy at the denouement. It would potentially be possible to view Östlund's Glasgow Film Festival offering as a straight drama in which it would remain gripping and deftly observed. As Vivaldi's Four Seasons echoes across the piste, Force Majeure is a gripping and deftly observed drama that adds caustic condemnation through its embracing of humour.
This review was originally published in September 2014 as part of our Toronto International Film Festival coverage.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson