Away review – an uncanny and moving animated adventure

Tenet might be the shock to the system that UK cinemas need after months of closure, but there are other wonderful options out there for those that don’t want their brains frazzled. Flying the flag for 2D animation is Away, the three-and-a-half year labour of love from Gints Zilbalodis – who among other things is the film’s director, writer, animator, editor and composer. It’s an animation with a difference, loaded with atmosphere and a remarkable emotional grip. 

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Filmed without a word of dialogue, a boy finds himself stranded on a strange island with only a small rucksack of supplies and a motorbike to help him find his way back to civilization. Along the way he befriends a young yellow bird along with a myriad of other creatures, but is also being chased by a terrifying spirit that seems to consume whatever life is in its path. It feels like the strangest of dreams, nothing quite looking how it should, and yet you would hesitate to change a single thing. This is art blessed with the miracle of movement.

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The animation is fairly simple, the style sacrificing details audiences have come to expect from the 3D era (namely dynamic shadows and footprints), but there is a captivating beauty in this minimalism. Despite the apparently basic level of detail, this strange world proves intoxicating, the ingenuity and drama of the story worthy of your unreserved attention. The fairly straightforward adventure story is told with streaks of colourful, feverish creativity. Zilbalodis loads the film with just the right levels of positivity and threat to ensure that this is far more than movie fodder for young children. This is a heartfelt story that anyone can appreciate.

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This is a story of connection, nature and death, which for a U-rated film has an unusually heavy presence. A scene where birds start dropping out of the sky is borderline harrowing. The protagonist is also haunted by the circumstances that caused him to end up where he is, a state that is the catalyst for some sensational dream sequences. The giant black figure that relentlessly hunts him down seems to be the figure of death itself, always closing him down as if to remind him that he should never have survived at all. 

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Away is often an eerie, almost unsettling experience, but all the darker moments are balanced out by some unbridled joy and wonder. The boy’s relationship with a small yellow bird is particularly tender – even with no dialogue, the unmistakable bond between the pair is never even questioned. The boy’s need for some kind of connection is what helps to ensure his survival, and makes for some of the film’s most beautiful, memorable moments. It is a rousing quest full of danger and spectacular scenery, but at the same time it demonstrates a remarkable restraint. You don’t have to go looking for the beauty in Away, as even in the apparently mundane moments it is hard to see anything else.

Away is like a crystal; unimposing, but incredibly powerful and enriching. Zilbalodis’ artistic triumph will make you well up inside as this funny little animated anomaly reminds you of the deep desire for connectedness that makes every one of us a human being.

Away is in cinemas now.

James Hanton

James is a contributor to Outtake, Starburst Magazine and The Wee Review. He is also the former Editor-in-Chief of The Student, the oldest student newspaper in the UK. A recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, James is looking for paid writing gigs so he doesn't fall into the endless abyss of graduate unemployment. He can be contacted at: jhantonwriter@gmail.com