A young couple’s Icelandic vacation turns into an existential mystery in the admirably stripped-down “Bokeh,” a sci-fi drama without all the explanatory “sci.” With its bare-bones approach, the first feature by writer-directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan distills even the backstory of its American travelers to the absolute minimum, drawing the viewer straight into the characters’ bewildering predicament: Overnight, the rest of humanity has somehow disappeared from the planet.
Having set up their intriguing premise with economy, the filmmakers don’t always know what to do with it, and as the story gives way to repetitious sightseeing sequences and melodrama, it proves less than fully satisfying. But there’s plenty to admire along the way, not least the otherworldly beauty of the landscape, as much a character as the confounded but resilient Jenai and Riley.
Played with convincing understatement by Maika Monroe and Matt O’Leary, they wake to a depopulated Reykjavík — but one where, in the movie’s single dash of scientific rationale, automated geothermal plants keep the island nation’s electricity running. Cinematographer Joe Lindsay captures a matter-of-fact eeriness, using the midnight sun to play night for day, and Keegan DeWitt’s excellent score heightens the shifting moods.
The film’s title refers to photographic blur, a nod to Riley’s picture-taking but more crucially to the idea that he and Jenai see their situation through very different viewfinders. Intent on “capturing the moment” on his badge-of-cool vintage Rolleiflex, he focuses on new possibilities. She’s a preacher’s daughter, zooming in on questions about the Rapture. The drama’s power may dwindle, yet its end-of-the-world scenario remains oddly recognizable.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, Santa Monica