Five Great Norwegian Films
Hollywood may still be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of film, but the truth is that great films can be found just about anywhere. It doesn't really matter what your preferred style or genre of film is either—as long as a country actually has the resources and support for film-making to be possible, then the chances are pretty good that you will be able to find something worth your time.
The five films from Norway listed below, for example, cover a variety of different styles and genres. Each of them is well worth the time of any lover of film.
Three student film-makers—Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)—set out to follow up on rumours of a poacher illegally hunting bears in the Norwegian wilderness. They may be inexperienced when it comes to filmmaking and investigation, but they are determined to prove themselves. More importantly, they are convinced that the story they are following is one worth telling.
Their investigation takes an unexpected turn when they are directed to a mysterious figure who has frequently been seen in the area since the bear killings started. Following up on this lead, they meet Hans (Otto Jespersen) who, as it turns out, is employed by the Norwegian government as a fully licensed trollhunter. The trio are naturally dubious, at first—though, they soon find themselves in over their heads as they are confronted monstrous creatures drawn straight out of Norwegian folklore.
Trollhunter is a film which relies on the found footage approach to filmmaking—a technique intended to create a greater sense of immersion by making the camera an active participant, and presenting the story as something "real." Because of this, it is probably fair to say that how much enjoyment you get out of this film will depend, at least in part, on how you feel about found footage films, in general. I will say, though, that Trollhunter would have to count as one of the best uses of this particularly film-making technique that I have come across. The early moments of the film come across as being every bit as amateurish and low-budget as you would expect from a student film. When the trolls are revealed, though, they are presented in full CGI, with an impressive level of detail.
Trollhunter is a film which also relies on some great performances from its cast, in order to present some great moments of genuine tension and excitement, with some effective moments of comedy mixed in. On top of that, it is also a film which draws on Norwegian folklore concerning trolls in some genuinely interesting and entertaining ways—which, at least for me, is another obvious strength.
Cold Prey is a film which does not attempt to stray too far from the standard conventions of your typical slasher film. The film centers around a cast of young and attractive potential victims—Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen), Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen) and Ingunn (Viktoria Winge)—who find themselves conveniently trapped in an abandoned and isolated mountain resort when one of their number injures himself in an accident. It features a intimidating, and seemingly unstoppable, killer determined to take this group of young friends out, one at a time. As you might expect, it is also a film which features some moments of rather brutal violence.
What really distinguishes Cold Prey, though, is the how it is able to put these fairly standard conventions to good use. The cast may initially seem like the same type of young and attractive group of friends that you get in many other slasher films—but they also manage to come across as well-developed and genuinely likable characters. More importantly, they never act in a way that comes across as conspicuously stupid once the action starts—often acting in ways that come across as genuinely clever and creative. The location of an isolated, and snowed-in, mountain resort makes for a suitably foreboding and atmospheric setting—which is put to good use throughout the film. On top of that, the mysterious killer also manages to come across as a genuinely threatening figure, as he is forced to employ clever tactics of his own to get at his prey.
Cold Prey may be a fairly conventional slasher film, in many ways—but it also provides a great example of how those standard conventions can be used to tell a genuinely engaging story. Overall, that would have to be the film's greatest achievement.
When Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) is found hiding under the body of a dead stripper in a Swedish strip club—the only survivor of a violent shootout—he is naturally taken immediately into police custody. Under police interrogation, Oscar reveals the story of how he came to find himself in this situation, which began when four co-workers won a significant amount of money in a betting pool. Alongside Oscar are Thor (Mads Ousdal), who owes a large sum of money to some very dangerous people; Billy (Arthur Berning), who is aggressive, violent, and possibly a little crazy; and, Dan (Andreas Cappelen), who seems harmless enough but who is also dead by the time Oscar returns from a quick trip to buy celebratory drinks. From here, one absurdly violent encounter quickly follows another as we follow the sequence of events which lead us back to that Swedish strip club. Through it all, of course, there is also the lingering question of exactly how reliable a narrator Oscar truly is.
Based on a story by popular Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, Jackpot is a film which often seems to go out of its way to revel in its own violent absurdity. In doing so, it manages to provide many moments of genuinely entertaining black comedy. In keeping with the standard conventions of black comedy, none of the film's cast of characters are particularly likable—which frees up the audience to be amused by their misfortune, rather than be disturbed by it.
By day, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter, well-known for his ability to find the best person for a particular job. By night, though, Roger pursues a second career as a professional art thief. Through his dealing with wealthy clients, Roger is able to pick out potential targets—and, though his partnership with an employee of a prestigious security company, he is able to arrange for his target's security system to be shut down. Replacing the original piece of art with a well-made copy allows him to sell the original while his victim remains unaware that a crime has even taken place.
Roger's latest target is a more challenging prospect, though. Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is an ex-soldier, and a former member of a special forces unit trained in tracking targets. Naturally, Roger has some concerns about this—but the promise of a large pay-off is enough to convince him to go ahead with his plan. During the robbery, though, Roger happens to come across evidence that prove that Clas is currently involved in an affair with his wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund).
When Roger is just barely able to avoid an attempt on his life shortly after the robbery, he comes to the conclusion that Clas and Diana may be working together to have him killed. With no idea who he can trust, Roger is forced to flee. From there, the film becomes an incredibly tense game of cat and mouse, as Roger attempts to elude his highly trained adversary.
Headhunters is another film based on a story by Jo Nesbø. Unlike the over-the-top black comedy of Jackpot, though, Headhunters plays out as a more straight-forward thriller—with the elaborate game of cat and mouse playing out between the two men providing some great moments of tension. It also features some great performances, with Aksel Hennie being a definite standout.
Two long-time friends—Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold)—are employed by a cleaning service that specializes in cleaning up crime scenes. Elvis is clearly poorly suited for the occasionally grisly nature of their work, though just as clearly needs the money. Leo, on the other hand, is practically a veteran—perfectly able to get his hands dirty without the slightest trace of squeamishness.
Their latest job takes the two men deep into the Norwegian wilderness to a secluded cabin where, it seems, the previous owner had died as a result of an attack by wild animals. As they work, though, Elvis comes across what seems to be the entrance to a hidden basement. Tucked away in that hidden basement, the two men discover a seemingly mute young woman (Siljie Reinåmo) locked away from the outside world, and seemingly kept as a prisoner. Through a series of tapes left behind by the cabin's previous owner, they learn that the young woman's name is Thale, and that she is not human. Thale, it seems, is actually a huldra, a supernatural being drawn straight out of Norwegian folklore.
With little to do but wait for the authorities to arrive, Elvis and Leo settle in for the long way—taking the opportunity to learn more about this mysterious woman as they do so. As time passes, though, they begin to suspect that they are not alone in these woods. Soon enough, it beings to seem as though the ones truly responsible for the death of the cabin's previous owner may have returned, and that they may be in danger.
Thale is a fascinating example of the stubborn determination of independent film-makers. The film was made on a very small budget, and with its director, Aleksander Nordaas, required to take on a wide variety of roles just to ensure that it actually got made. It is also a film which manages to a genuinely atmospheric film with some great performances from its cast. Siljie Reinåmo, in particular, is very impressive. She manages to create a character who comes across as both vulnerable, but also potentially dangerous.
© 2019 Dallas Matier