Scandinavia: the land that brought us the Vikings, IKEA and, apparently, a place where gruesome murders abound, if we’re to judge from its literature.
Well, not exactly – but that’s sort of the point.
While we’re accustomed these days to images of gore courtesy of Hollywood, calculated killers are not something we’d typically associate with the Scandinavian region.
After all, Scandinavia brought us the ‘hygge’ movement, characterised by the feeling of coziness and contentment – a far cry from the murders reflected in its literary mirror.
In fact, with the exception of 2011’s massacre at the hands of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, the area’s countries routinely report some of the lowest annual figures for murder globally.
But when Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, popularly known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was first published in 2008 and subsequently went on to sell 80 million copies globally over the next seven years, it heralded a new imagined reality in literature and celluloid: Scandinavian noir.
Larsson’s trilogy, which at first glance seemed to be a classic whodunit, became a bleak exposition and social commentary on a dark undercurrent of Swedish society, set against an equally bleak winter.
After Larsson’s success came Denmark’s The Killing (2007) and The Bridge (2011) and Sweden’s Modus (2015) – and the long nights, icy landscapes and eerie silence suddenly became fertile ground for the grisliest of imaginations.
It’s a trope director Tomas Alfredson, the man behind Swedish vampire horror Let the Right One In (2008) and upcoming release The Snowman, knows well. “In Scandinavia, silence is a part of our culture and our way of communicating,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “Silence is a very useful tool for activating people’s imagination.”
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, The Snowman follows detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), a chain-smoking sleuth with an eye for detail.
But as the first snowfall of the year settles, Norway’s capital is disturbed by a series of brutal murders featuring married women.
When all the victims are left accompanied by the killer’s wintry calling card – a snowman, if you hadn’t guessed – the race is on to catch the killer before the snow thaws and the trail goes cold.
But with its atypical setting and relatively low crime rates, is Nesbø’s Norwegian noir an imagined grisly locale superimposed on a real place?
“For many years, it seemed as if nothing changed in Norway,” he wrote in an op ed for the New York Times following Breivik’s attack.
“You could leave the country for three months, travel the world, through coups d’état, assassinations, famines, massacres and tsunamis, and come home to find that the only new thing in the newspapers was the crossword puzzle.
“I think the feeling we are secure and things can’t really change is an illusion,” he continued, in a later interview with The Independent. “That is the scary bit, because things can change very fast. “It’s there,” he said, talking of Norway’s seedier side.
“It’s both hidden and not hidden. It’s Oslo, with a darker twist.”
Also starring: Rebecca Ferguson, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer and Charlotte Gainsbourg Running time: 120 mins