Greenland (2020).

Gerard Butler in a film about the end of the world. What can go wrong? Well in the film a lot goeswrong but thankfully, as a film, there’s a lot right with Greenland, a disaster movie that has just been released on Amazon Prime.

Bulter plays John Garrity, a structural engineer who’s trying to get back together with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin). They’re taking things slowly. He’s just moving back into the house and is having to sleep in the guest room. They have a young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) who suffers from diabetes.

The start of Greenland plays like an independently made love story. It doesn’t try to rush, and neither does it take any real short cuts. More is told in a gesture or a look than is told in words. We feel the tension between the protagonists and feel the weight of their past relationship hanging heavily between them.

In the background, on TV and on the Radio, we hear about the near-earth passing of Comet Clarke, the largest body ever to get close to earth since the big one that ended the reign of the dinosaurs. People are excited to get a glimpse of this once in a thousand millennia phenomena. Clarke is not expected to hit earth, but merely pass us with only the odd small fragment burning up in our atmosphere. People are generally relaxed and looking forward to it.

But of course, not everything is as it seems, and on a trip to the grocery store, Garrity receives an automated message informing him that he, Allison and Nathan have been selected take shelter in a number of bunkers in classified locations. This warning also appears on their TV in front of all the neighbours as they sit down to witness the comet pass. As they watch, the first fragment hits Florida, sending a shockwave cascading through the south eastern United States.  

The Garritys must leave their neighbours, all of whom are terrified of what’s going to happen, and get to the military airbase as soon as possible in order to survive the big one that is going to hit in 48 hours. This one is going to trigger an extinction level event.

So far, everything has taken its time to set up, and this adds to the sense of tension that is maintained throughout Greenland, a medium budget film directed by Ric Roman Waugh. It’s strange for me to say that the makers of Angel Has Fallen, a film riddled with preposterousness, could come together to make a thoughtful and exciting movie about the apocalypse, but Greenland really is solid and well made entertainment.

This isn’t because of the special effects or the scenes of global destruction (with a budget of only $35 million, world destruction was never going to look that convincing) that make Greenland so good, it’s the human element, that need to do absolutely anything, good or bad, to survive that makes it work.

There are crowd scenes towards the start of the film that really get your heart pumping and reminded me in some ways of the chaos of Train To Busan, and whilst Greenland never quite reaches that film’s level of tension, it still has more than its fair share of edge of the seat moments. The real terror here doesn’t come from the skies, it comes from other, very ordinary people and the lengths that they’ll go to to survive. There are heroes and villains, and many are just after the same thing – to escape their impending deaths.

Simple tasks like going to a drugstore, or losing each other in a crowd, become tense nightmares. In fact, the drug store scene reminded me of images from the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi in 2013. Although I’m not sure that was intentional, it still resonates. Successful disaster films work because they remind us of real-life disasters and Greenland is no exception.  

If you want to pick holes in some elements of the plot, you probably could, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because there is real heart here. The filmmakers don’t expand their narrative beyond this singular act of attempted survival, they aren’t interested in the global elite like many such films; they’re only interested in the ordinary people who are impacted most by a global event like this.

The performances are spot on and it’s good to see Scott Glenn in a cameo which could easily have been reduced to schmaltz but manages to stay just on the right side of pathos without dipping into syrupy sweet (which is ironic given that a large part of the conversation he has involves pancakes and syrup).

Perhaps it was because of the budget that the special effects are kept to a minimum but, when we do see them, it’s easy to forgive some of the ropiness. When the human story is good enough, we’re less inclined to think about how slick the film is.

Greenland is no masterpiece, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining movie that will keep you enthralled throughout. Sometimes the lack of a huge budget can be a good thing, pushing filmmakers to concentrate more on the characters and human interaction and this is a case of a budgetary deficit being turned to a film’s advantage. Greenland comes highly recommended.

Film ‘89 Verdict – 7/10

Greenland is available now on Amazon Prime.