Things That Go Norse in the Night: Whodunnit with a supernatural twist
Released in the same year as Jar City, Cold Trail took a very different path and provided further evidence that the nation’s filmmakers were intent on pushing the envelope.
Generously budgeted in comparison to other movies from the period, director Björn Brynjúlfur Björnsson’s first feature film is set in the inhospitable frozen wastelands of Iceland’s north. Equal parts locked room murder mystery, suspense thriller, and ghost story, Cold Trail mashes up familiar generic tropes and somehow produces an utterly idiosyncratic and uniquely Icelandic film experience.
Reckless journalist Baldur Maríusson (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson – 101 Reykjavik, Metalhead) is investigating a CEO accused of child molestation. In his eagerness to bag a front page exclusive, he neglects to fact-check the story and the newspaper is forced to issue a retraction when the wrongly accused CEO visits the office in a state of great distress. As he deals with the fallout caused by publication of his hastily written article another story breaks that will have profoundly personal ramifications.
The news that a dam worker has fallen to death is just another headline which will be examined by a colleague and swiftly forgotten about or so he thinks. After learning that the deceased was the father he never knew, Baldur sneaks into a morgue hoping to say goodbye. Discovering a puncture mark on the corpse’s chest he quits his paper and gets a job as a night watchman at the dam in order to unravel the truth about his father’s death.
Infiltrating the dam he finds a murky world of strange behaviour and dark secrets. Supposedly haunted by a worker who died during the building’s construction, he sees a figure in the corner of his vision and is unsure if an intruder has broken in or if his mind is playing tricks on him.
Working alongside his father’s former colleagues he learns unpalatable truths about the mysterious figure who chose to abandon his parental duties and live a booze-soaked life in a remote northern outpost.
The best locked-room mysteries reward repeated viewings. Cold Trail‘s efficient screenplay pays homage to the genre and is packed with enough quirks to make it stand out as a distinctive film in its own right. Trimmed of fat and layered with a succession of clever setups, reveals, and red herrings, nothing is wasted in the script. Every line of dialogue and character action has added significance that only becomes apparent when the closing credits roll. Watch the film a second, or third, time and take delight in spotting clues and seeing how the film doffs a hat to the genre while successfully throwing other influences into the mix.
Björn Brynjúlfur Björnsson’s direction balances the need to convey intense claustrophobia while exemplifying the beauty and inherent danger of Iceland’s frozen north.
A spine-tingling thriller that will leave you feeling jelly-legged. Cold Trail is one of modern Icelandic screen crime’s foundation stones.