‘The Valhalla Murders’ review: Netflix Nordic-noir is a compelling watch

A still from ‘The Valhalla Murders’  

The Valhalla Murders, the first Icelandic series to be streamed on Netflix, is pretty standard issue Scandi-noir— and that is not a bad thing. Old sins, as always, cast long shadows. There is a serial killer who seems to be targeting older people, slashing their eyes post-mortem. What is the connection between the victims and perpetrator? Is it Valhalla, the abandoned boys’ home that operated in the ‘80s? The lead investigator, Kata, has a lot on her plate. She is divorced, fighting substance abuse issues, dealing with her 16-year-old son who might have been involved in a horrific crime, and has been overlooked for promotion.

A profiler, Arnar, reluctantly returns home to Reykjavik from Oslo to help in the investigation. He has secrets of his own too — an ailing father he is not willing to forgive and a cowed sister he does not wish to be in contact with.

As always, it is a joy to hear a different language, experience another culture and see a whole new landscape. The brilliant blue of the Icelandic skies, the stark white of piles of pristine snow with a lone car winding through paints a singular picture of magnificent isolation. The dazzling azure skies contrast sharply with the dank basement in Valhalla where all manner of horrors are perpetuated.

Language-wise, even though some nuances might have been lost in translation, it is preferable to have characters talk in their native language. No matter how good Kenneth Branagh was as Wallander in the BBC adaptation of Swedish author, Henning Mankell’s police procedurals, it was strange hearing Wallander speak in English. It was as strange as Daniel Craig's Mikael Blomkvist talking in English in David Fincher’s adaptation of the novel that started it all — Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The Valhalla Murders
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 8
  • Run time: 50 minutes
  • Creator: Thordur Palsson
  • Starring: Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, Björn Thors, Sigurður Skúlason, Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir, Víkingur Kristjánsson, Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir

Incidentally, the Swedish title of the novel was the stark Män som hatar kvinnor, meaning "Men who hate women." And while The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has an interesting ring to it, “Men who hate women” is a surgical strike at the heart of the book. Similarly, the original Icelandic title for The Valhalla Murders is Brot, which means violation. While The Valhalla Murders works as effective shorthand (all who thought of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ get a bonus point) to tell the distracted surfer that it is a police procedural, Scandi-noir with cold landscapes and brutal murders, Brot, goes to the core of the story. It speaks of the different violations in the story — of trust, faith, of the body and mind. What do you do when those who are meant to protect you, abuse you?

The Valhalla Murders also educates us on the fact that Icelandic police officers do not carry firearms — guns are kept in a special locker which requires a passcode to be opened — it makes for a thrilling sequence when Kata is trailing a suspect, who might be armed. There is also the morality of whether she was right in carrying the gun into the chase.

The cast comfortably inhabit their characters. Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as Kata is as tightly wound up as her ponytail, doggedly pursuing leads in the face of mounting challenges. Björn Thors as Arnar personifies the reluctant return of the native, carrying the burden of both his physical and mental scars.

Sigurður Skúlason as the police chief Magnús creates an effective picture of an inherently good man, who made some wrong choices, while Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir plays it straight as the newscaster Selma. The media is thankfully not portrayed as rapacious hell hounds who would sacrifice anything for ratings. They are portrayed the old-fashioned way as standing up for truth and justice. Víkingur Kristjánsson is the standard-issue small-town cop Hákon, who will not be browbeaten into ignoring truth and justice. Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir is Laufey, Arnar's sister who believes in family and also believes Arnar’s redemption comes only through forgiveness.

Inspired by a real-life incident that took place in Iceland in the 1940s at an institution for troubled boys, The Valhalla Murders is a taut, thrilling journey into the welfare-state-forged manacles of the mind.

The Valhalla Murders streams on Netflix

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 10:37:29 AM |

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