Devonian Fever Trip (Devonsk Febertokt) (2019)

Anders Elsrud Hultgreen is a scape artist. His feature debut Dawn (Morgenrøde, 2014) and now its follow-up Devonian Fever Trip (Devonsk Febertokt) offer real desertscapes and rockscapes repurposed as moonscapes and mindscapes, while made to shimmer with alien otherness by all-encompassing soundscapes. His works offer escapism of sorts – that is, the escapism of defamiliarisation which makes the natural world around us resemble another planet – but they are, in all their terrifying numinous awe, too doom-laden and oppressive to bring viewers the comfort of release.

Dawn was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth of the future, but the era and location of Devonian Fever Trip are harder to pin down. The first word of the title suggests a primordial, prehistoric age, although the (almost entirely invisible) presence of humans in the narrative tells against that. The narrator (voiced by Hultgreen, in an amplified whisper) suggests his sense of utter disorientation, with the only sign that he is even in the same part of the universe as Earth being a few constellations that he recognises in the sky. Hultgreen brings that tranporting disorientation to us by grounding this world in footage shot between 2011 and 2018 in multiple locations – the scablands of Washington State’s Drumheller Channels National, the pumice plains formed beneath Washington’s active Mount St Helens, the volcanic deserts of Iceland, and other geological sites in western Norway and Canada. These barren landscapes are further estranged through red filters that bathe everything in a bloody blaze. This is like the slow opening section of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982) sent through a lysergic prism – a ‘trip’ indeed, albeit a bad one, as our narrator describes bearing horrified, painful witness to a cataclysmic holocaust in which everything living is overwhelmed and destroyed in the merciless whirlwind of a cosmic conflagration.

One might regard the eleven headed chapters and epilogue of Devonian Fever Trip as a portrait of an unfolding Apocalypse, as told by its sole survivor – but the film’s title, as well as the textual quote from H.P. Lovecraft (“Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams is unknown”) with which the film opens, point to an alternative interpretative frame for these strange sights and sounds. For this may all be the narrator’s fever dream, its fiery imagery mimicking his heated, febrile state and its oneiric narrative reflecting the bed-ridden meanderings of a hallucinating mind. Bolstering this reading of the film as solipsistic vision is the fact that everything we see and hear comes from Hultgreen himself, who serves as writer, director, producer, composer, cinematographer, editor, production designer and sound designer, in addition to providing the film’s only speaking part. The film is a one-man conjuring act, mapping a story of devastating natural destruction onto processed vistas that do not always match what the words are describing (“I realise neither words nor pictures can reconstruct a truthful picture of what I experienced and witnessed,” the narrator states at the beginning), but nonetheless show evidence of massive geological upheaval. With its isolationist electronic score and stunning visual panoramas, Hultgreen’s minimalist experiment reduces an ailing, despairing human perspective to the visual language of ravaged landscape.

© Anton Bitel