A stylish but fairly typical drug story, From Iceland to Eden brings to mind European thrillers like Trainspotting, Run Lola Run, and Only God Forgives with a story about young lovers caught up in drugs and in each other. Most of the signifiers of this genre are here: a rebellious, spontaneous female protagonist; a hip hop-heavy soundtrack; a desire for one final score before the couple can get out of the game. From Iceland to Eden is moderately entertaining but suffers from undeniable familiarity—until a last-act swerve that is so jarringly puzzling that it sets the film apart from others in this genre. Whether the distinction is satisfying, though, or successful within the narrative of the film itself, is arguable.
Óliver (Hansel Eagle) and Lóa (Telma Huld Jóhannesdóttir) meet one night as they are each affected by the ramifications of their drug use. Clad only in a towel, a high Óliver hides from the police in a flat, hoping they won’t find the door he’s hiding behind; in that bathroom, floating naked and seemingly dead in a bubble-filled bathtub, is Lóa. The two are tied together after Óliver resuscitates her, again when they realize their shared acquaintance in the flat is dead of an overdose, and when they hit the streets together to walk around Reykjavik, Iceland, and escape police pursuit.
How quickly the two fall in love isn’t particularly surprising. Óliver is laidback and chill, a reflection of his own drug preferences (weed, mushrooms). Lóa is more intense, more take-charge, more vivacious, and she’ll try anything once (snorting lines of cocaine off a stranger’s table, eyeing up bottles of pills in other people’s apartments). They’re a classic opposites-attract scenario, sharing with each other their life dreams during their first shared trip. Óliver wants to open a meditation camp, Lóa wants to return to ballet. Those desires seem very far away from the itinerant lifestyle both 20somethings are leading, but their attraction to each other and interest in their respective goals is genuine.
What happens next, though, sticks fairly close to the tenets of this genre. For a seemingly painless payday, the couple agrees to pick up and deliver a drug shipment for the local drug lord, Tumi (Hjalti P. Finnsson), and his father the Fly (Arnar Jónsson), the real weight behind the operation. Father and son run the entire drug trade in Reykjavik, and to double cross them would be insanity.
Through purposefully choppily edited pickup sequences and sped-up parties, director and writer Snævar Sölvason communicates to us the appeal of this life: Óliver and Lóa buying new clothes, traipsing around a flea market, having sex, posing with their stacks of cash, getting a new apartment. Set to a rap remix of the classic Christmas song “Sleigh Ride,” the pair pose and preen and present themselves as hardcore badasses who also happen to be desperately in love, and Eagle and Jóhannesdóttir sell that chemistry.
Óliver and Lóa are suddenly rich and successful, but Lóa’s increasing heroin use, and Óliver’s grudge against Tumi for a violent threat when the two began working for the drug dealer, set the lovers on different paths. Whether the couple’s romantic relationship can survive as they individually spiral out of control leads to a conclusion that mimics the frantic nature of a bad trip—and that also might not be entirely explained by, or sync up with, the rest of the film.
As a somewhat run-of-the-mill drug story, From Iceland to Eden hits its marks. Gunnar Marís and Einar Viðar G. Thoroddsen add some goofiness as Lóa’s pot-growing friends Ronni and Gunni, roommates who dream of eventually moving to Cuba together. There are scenes here that really sell the youthfulness and camaraderie of these characters: when Óliver and Gunni team up to gently rib Lóa in Norwegian, a language they speak that she doesn’t; when the four go out to a fancy dinner together in a collection of ridiculous outfits, including a top hat for Ronni; when Óliver and Lóa come up with the idea to hide packets of cocaine in old-school VHS tapes for their customers. There are nods to raver culture throughout that add authenticity to the film, even as some of the character development—in particular that of Tumi and the Fly—are lacking.
But in its entirety, it’s difficult to judge From Iceland to Eden because the film’s final minutes hint at a totally different reading of the preceding plot. There are some scenes throughout that seem like eccentric filmmaking flourishes, and to discuss them would be to spoil them, but coupled with that ending, they take on an almost impenetrable tone. Does that make From Iceland to Eden worth watching again? Perhaps, but even a second time, the mystery here might not entirely jive with what is otherwise an amusing but ultimately quite familiar thriller.