Blood on Ice:A Nordic Noir Primer

by Magnus Sundholm May 21, 2020
A scene from "The Vahalla Murders" series, 2019

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Atmospheric, moody, and addictive: Nordic Noir has emerged as a vibrant and prolific genre in film and series. Ricky Gervais says he watches two hours of it every night. Liam Neeson can’t live without a steady fix of the writer Joe Nesbø. Here is a suggested binge list for everybody else interested in Nordic Noir.

The Valhalla Murders / Iceland

The eight-part whodunit series is the first Icelandic show to be featured on Netflix. Several seemingly unrelated people are found brutally murdered in various locations in Iceland. A Norwegian detective is brought in to help solve the mystery with the local investigator, Kata. The two discover that the brutalities that occurred inside the walls of a mysterious building in 1980s might have a connection to the recent serial killings: the discovery takes them on a dark path filled with shocking revelations that could jeopardize both their careers and their lives. While the series may start out slowly, it rewards your patience with the tension that builds with each episode.

 

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A scene from "All the Sins" series, 2019

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All The Sins / Finland

Ritualistic murders and church-enforced cover-ups set for a mystery with the usual handful of suspects. This classic Nordic Noir starts with a body strung upside down in a barn as a shadowy assassin draws a knife, seemingly to dispatch the victim. Based on Henning Mankell’s story, this TV show is built on a specific Scandinavian social issue involving Leastadianism, an offshoot of Lutheranism. We meet two misfit detectives, a middle-aged woman with guilt issues and an uptight former Laestadian, both trying to solve the case while nothing goes according to plan. All The Sins is available on Amazon Prime. Elisa Viihde announced in October 2019 that the first season has been sold to more than 30 countries. She has commissioned the second season, to be filmed in 2020.

 

Twin / Norway

Set in breathtaking Lofoten, this addictive identity theft thriller features Game Of Thrones actor Kristofer Hivju, portraying identical twin brothers Erik and Adam. The brothers could not be more different from each other. Erik is a permanently broke surf bum while Adam is a solid family man running a boutique hotel with his wife. The pair haven’t seen each other in 15 years when an accident during a reunion causes their lives dramatically to intersect once more. A combination of coincidences leads to the wrong twin’s being dead after an accident and results in the revelation of a web of secrets stretching back for years. Twin is available on Netflix.

 

Darkness: Those Who Kill / Denmark

We were first introduced to Those Who Kill back in 2011. Eight years later, the show made its return featuring a new look, a new cast, and a new killer on the loose. Darkness: Those Who Kill takes place on the outskirts of Copenhagen, where a 17-year old girl has gone missing, and as six months go by, hopes are fading that she’ll ever be found.  However, police detective Jan Michelsen won’t give up. He thinks she might still be alive and that he can help save her. When he starts digging into files from the '80s, he finds that another woman went missing from the same suburb. As the police investigate and attempt to understand the mind of the killer, we also witness scenes from the criminal’s perspective, which suggests that more people will go missing …

 

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A scene from the series "Quicksand", 2019

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Quicksand / Sweden

The Swedish Netflix original show got the Internet overworked when it was released in 190 countries simultaneously in 2019. Based on a best-selling novel, the first sound heard in the six-episode series is the cocking of a gun. At the age of 18, Maja is arrested for her part in a deadly school shooting in an exclusive Stockholm suburb. The story flashes back and forth between the present day and her memories of events that led up to the shooting. It is also a story of class and segregation, addressing pertinent issues in today's Sweden. Combining suspenseful crime thriller and edgy teen drama, the series digs into the consequences of abusive relationships and the brutality of gun violence.

 

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A scene from the series "Borderliner", 2019

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Borderliner / Norway

When an honorable cop does a corrupt thing for what he thinks is the right reason, everything spirals out of control. The Norwegian Netflix series focuses on a police officer who covers up a murder for the good of his own family: when investigating a local man's apparent suicide, in which his family and all his old hometown acquaintances seem to be somehow involved, he is forced to make a choice about whether or not to cover up a crime committed by his own brother. With little clues everywhere, this is as intense and darkly atmospheric as Scandi-noir comes. 

 

 

Before We Die / Sweden

A series of scenes of sickening violence, this gloomy and heart-pounding Swedish crime drama starts off with a mother (Hanna) arresting her own son for dealing drugs. When Sven, Hanna’s colleague and lover, goes missing, it leads her further along a path via some violent bikers to the civil war in Yugoslavia. The first season of 10-episode serves up sex, drugs, gangsters, and an intense car chase sequence. Season 1 was highly regarded by both the critics and the viewing public in 2017, and season 2 was released in March this year, both on Amazon Prime.

 

Ragnarok / Norway

With a unique take on Norse mythology, this Norwegian Netflix original revolves around the Apocalypse, or the end of the world, with natural disasters leading to a battle between gods and giants. But here the impressive physical presence of Marvel’s Thor has been swapped out for that of a teenage boy who doesn't even realize he's a deity. Upon arriving in the town of Edda, Magne quickly learns that things aren't what they seem. This realization comes via a student activist who reveals that there are poisonous levels of cadmium in the town's water system. It was confirmed soon after the show’s release in March 2020 that the teen thriller has been renewed for season 2.

 

Bordertown / Finland

With three seasons already out there to binge on, this Finnish crime drama follows the fortunes of detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen, one of the most respected officers at the National Bureau of Investigation in Finland. When his wife narrowly survives brain cancer, Sorjonen takes a new job leading the Serious Crime Unit in Lappeenranta, a town near the border of Russia, seeking a more peaceful life for his family. But life turns out to be less than peaceful there, and he is soon drawn into a network of disturbing murder cases. The series was sold to over 40 countries.

 

Case / Iceland

The award-winning Icelandic crime drama from 2015 follows the events after the death of a young talented young ballerina at the National Theater in Reykjavik. A determined detective, Gabríela, starts digging beneath the veneer of polite metropolitan society, and comes to believe that dark forces are at work, conspiring to cover up a murder.  She gets help from struggling lawyer Logi, who is motivated to uncover the truth in an attempt to redeem his own damaged reputation. Case is available on Netflix.