It seems like we’re bombarded with two or three mountain bike “shredits” every day on YouTube. Most of the time, it’s some downhill or freeride champion, the riding and environment are phenomenal, but there’s no plot line, the music is debatable, and you can only watch so many berms get shralped before it gets kind of boring.
That’s why it’s a bit of a big deal when a full length mountain bike film comes out. The tours usually have a lot of destinations, and if you can make one of the stops, then it’s a fun atmosphere to watch pro riders on the big screen.
The promotion of North of Nightfall has been huge. Teasers and hints of a new Red Bull freeride film began last year and slowly built up anticipation until its release on June 5th, followed by a US tour with dozens of stops across the country. It’s also available on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play to rent or buy.
I started mountain biking in 2012 and Red Bull’s last major freeride movie, Where the Trail Ends, came out that same year and was a big inspiration for me to explore new places and try things that scared me on the bike. Six years later, I had to see the semi-sequel and find out what Red Bull, Darren Berrecloth, and Cam Zink had cooked up since then.
I’ll try and keep major spoilers and fine details out of this review, but there are a few things that must be touched upon in order for it to be covered completely.
The premise of North of Nightfall is similar to Where the Trail Ends. Red Bull and the best freeriders travel to remote destinations and ride the biggest lines the world has ever seen. As cinematic technology has developed over the years, the riding is more visually pleasing than ever. Just look at the photos for instance.
What makes North of Nightfall different is that the action takes place in a super remote location. On the Axel Heiberg island in the Arctic Ocean where the sun doesn’t set, the crew relies on native guides, electric polar bear fences, a lone doctor they fly in for their only medical support, and a very finite amount of other material supplies.
There’s also the addition of two younger riders, Carson Storch and Tom Van Steenbergen, who have more than cut their teeth on the world’s freeride stage. Zink and Berrecloth act as mentors to Storch and Van Steenbergen, who can learn from the veteran riders’ careers and perspectives on injuries and competing.
Red Bull’s production and filming is unrivaled in the action sports industry. The composition of their shots, and the colors of the arctic environment, combined with riders showing the world what is possible on a bicycle are why most of us will sit down to watch one of their movies. North of Nightfall showcases the best of Red Bull production capabilities and style.
The addition of a personality like Carson Storch is great, too. He’s young, polite, humble, and ambitious to progress even more.
With Van Steenbergen aside him, it sets the movie up for an important message, which is that it’s important to push it, but not after getting an injury, especially when it comes to concussions. Zink and Berrecloth step in to temper the younger riders’ hunger to keep pushing their big lines down the rocky cliffs, after they’ve both been banged up.
Repetitive concussions are now closely associated with mental health issues and depression, and no matter how amazing the riding is, it’s more important to live a healthy life after a rider’s career has ended.
Here’s where the movie takes an awkward turn. Although the set-up has the riders consulting a glaciologist about bringing awareness to the fragile arctic environment before they leave, once the riding ceases, it shifts to a climate change awareness film.
I’m not arguing with that message, and I think it’s important that we can see past our own bubble of mountain biking to something more grand like climate change, but that’s not how the film was sold, at least to mountain bikers.
In the original trailers, there are very subtle hints to this, but not enough to imply that the riding will take a backseat to something else.
My other gripe is that many of the conversations in the film, like those that discuss concussions, and the consultation feel scripted and unnatural. These are of course athletes and not actors, but it sure does feel like there’s a producer standing on the side of the camera operator making sure that the athletes go along with it.
Maybe it’s unfair for me to compare North of Nightfall to other Red Bull films, but that’s what I’ve come to expect.
In Where the Trail Ends, a few of the world’s best mountain bikers travel the world and look for the limits of free riding, only to come up short as their riding prevails.
In North of Nightfall, the limits are found early on, the riders play it safe, and Red Bull’s story tellers quickly shift direction and hope no one notices.
I won’t say this film isn’t worth watching, but if you’re expecting to see scene after scene of lines being carved down craggy cliffs, with Odesza playing in the background the whole time, well, we might have to wait another five years.
Author’s note: A few days before this article was published, Red Bull released an ‘All-Action Cut,’ of North of Nightfall. Red Bull says that it is a “all thriller, no filler action cut,” of the film. It seems that there was demand somewhere for a more action-oriented version, although it’s only three minutes long. Watch the compilation here: