Fresh-faced young Danish blonde Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) arrives in a disconcertingly empty airport lounge one sunny afternoon. She's there to meet her new boyfriend, the considerably older Michael (Lai Yde), who has promised to sweep her off her feet and take her for an unbelievable holiday on the Turkish Riviera.

Upon arriving at their destination, the pair rent a car and prepare to drive to Michael's luxury villa. He's clearly a man of considerable means, and Sascha obviously finds that sexy. But, after reassuring her that "you're not going to be sucking me off, if that's what you think", the rugged Michael slaps her twice and instantly asserts dominance over her. But the sun, the bright colours, the glamour ... it seems that these are enough of an allure for Sascha to cast any reservations to one side and continue on her adventure with this new beau.

Their villa is indeed a spectacular, stately affair: huge, white, blessed with its own private swimming pool and a view to die for. While Sascha jokingly dismisses it all as a little "tacky" she's clearly, openly impressed. Perhaps a tad overwhelmed.

And so, the partying begins. Dancing, drinking, eating, fucking, sunbathing by the pool. Stolen conversations that Sascha overhears Michael taking on his 'phone suggest he's into some shady business. It's no spoiler to reveal he is in actual fact a small-time drug baron.

With a group of Michael's friends turning up to join in with the frivolities, Sascha feels a little out of place and so ventures to the local ice cream stall one morning where she has a chance meeting with Dutch holiday-maker Thomas (Thijs Romer). Their friendship soon develops into mutual attraction.

Michael doesn't notice their blossoming friendship to begin with, as he's too busy entertaining friends at lap-dancing clubs, dealing with business and casting a roving eye over the local ladies. This allows for Thomas and Sascha to enjoy a very flirtatious but ultimately innocent evening on the beach together one night.

All of which sounds pretty aimless, yeah? Incorporate even more scenes of characters singing on karaoke, playing video arcade games, lounging in the sun, riding along on motorcycles and so on ... and you have a fairly uneventful (albeit beautifully-shot) initial 50 minutes of footage. But it's testament to director Isabella Eklof (who also co-wrote this alongside Johanne Algren) that amongst the languid pacing and picturesque photography, we get a palpable underlying sense of tension from the start. It all looks very uneventful and pretty, but there's no doubt in the viewer's mind that something is decidedly "off".

Indeed, our first indication of this comes when one of Michael's minions falls foul of a beating for fucking up a deal. Although this is largely performed off-screen, with the viewer instead invited to join Sascha occupying a couple of young girls by watching TV with them, it's hammered home that something is awry.

And then we get the pivotal, most controversial, moment of this film. The reason for walkouts at several festival screenings.

Michael retires, after serving punishment on his employee, to the spacious living room of his villa to rest on its settee with Sascha. He's clearly agitated, and forces himself upon her: she resists, but to no avail. What follows is possibly the most graphic rape scene to have been passed uncut by the BBFC - complete with a climactic facial cumshot. It's all shot in one take, in long shot, and mainly played out in silence. It's certainly not played for titillation and anyone who experiences arousal during this 3-minute endurance test needs to seek counselling, pronto.

But it's a key scene in this painterly, expertly performed film because it propels the plot in many ways. Sascha is disturbingly calm afterwards, seemingly not traumatised - and yet, finds herself at Thomas's boat and furthering her friendship with him shortly afterwards. This leads Michael to Thomas, at a point where it's been established how psychotic Michael truly is. It sets the scene for a final act of unexpected violence that is as shocking as it is likely to stir debate over the message the film ultimately aims to put out.

HOLIDAY has been a very divisive film on the festival circuit, winning awards and plaudits for its challenging commentary on sexual politics. There have also been reports of several walk-outs. It's an interesting commentary from a female filmmaker in the me-too generation on women stuck in verbally, psychologically and physically abusive relationships. There's a haunting sense of isolation whenever Sascha's onscreen alone earlier in the film, which is missing come the end. I'm challenged by its message. I'm not sure I'm behind it, but I'm interested by the fact it troubles me so much. In the right company, this film is ripe to provoke hours of post-film debate.

On a more superficial level (getting back to basics!), HOLIDAY is a visually ravishing film. Colour is the order of the day here: Day-Glo costumes, sun-kissed blue skies, red-hued nightclubs etc. The cinematography is gorgeous - reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick at times. It also gave me vibes, in terms of style, pacing and tone, of early Paul Verhoeven and perhaps latter-day Nicolas Winding-Refn. Eklof herself has cited Ulrich Seidl and Gaspar Noe as influences: that's easy to see, especially in respect of the statically-shot rape scene which even has one character tentatively walk in on the crime and then hurriedly shy away, as in Noe's IRREVERSIBLE.

Performances are sterling throughout (perhaps a tad compromised by speaking in a mixture of Danish, Dutch and English - but it seems churlish to hold that against the actors, they're all very convincing in their given roles).

SGM watched the film online for review purposes. It looks fantastic in its original 2.35:1 ratio, in a gloriously vivid and warm 16x9 enhanced 1080p HD transfer.

The original 5.1 audio is cleverly positioned for maximum impact too, while well-written and easily readable English subtitles ensure we can follow the drama no matter what language is being spoken (heathens that we Brits are).

HOLIDAY is being released onto UK blu-ray by new kids on the block Anti-Worlds Releasing. Their big selling point on the surface is that the film is presented fully uncut with an 18 rating, blessed by our favourite moral guardians, the BBFC.

Beyond that, though not reviewed here, there are several interesting bonus features promised on their disc: a 20-minute video interview with Eklof; a 29-minute Q&A session between the director and critic Lizzie Francke conducted at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts; a deleted scene lasting 3 minutes; "Willy Kyrklund" - an 11-minute documentary on the author and poet, shot by Eklof back in 2002; the film's original theatrical trailer; a limited edition 28-page collectors' booklet. The release is also apparently limited to 3,000 copies.

A generic title and a pace that may be conceived as laborious to some may result in HOLIDAY evading most people. I sincerely hope not. It's a very well-made film, beautiful to look at and expertly acted. It's also problematic in its depiction of how abusive relationships work on the psyche, but I sincerely hope those extra features on the blu-ray release work to contextualise this matter. I'll certainly be investing in it with this hope in mind.

Either way, Eklof strikes me as a fearless talent that I should make note of for future reference.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Anti-Worlds Releasing