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7 of the best Nordic noir movies

Alongside television and publishing, the film industry in the Scandinavian countries has been producing some inspiring movies packed with that silent-but-deadly Nordic noir vibe. If you’re kicking your heals waiting for the next Jo Nesbo novel, or chomping at the bit for another series of The Bridge, these seven films are more than worth your time…

nordic noir movies

Jar City (2006)

The gloomy mood, bone-chilling atmosphere and rugged Icelandic setting don’t just set the tone for Jar City – they’ve helped define the genre and influenced many films and books to come. Based on Arnaldur Indridason’s novel, and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, both the storyline and maudlin cinematography are unforgettable. Iceland’s raw environment and brutal climate swirl about Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson in his role as the detective Erlendur Sveinsson, who is investigating the murder of an old man in his squalid Reykjavik flat. A photo found on the body might just link the victim to a rape case decades earlier, and the storyline brings in the theme of genetic disorder – a worry in a country with such a small population. Both the director and lead actor worked together more recently on Trapped, shown earlier in 2016 on BBC4.

nordic noir movies

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Some fans of Nordic noir rebel against the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s book, and indeed this wonderful adaptation for the big screen. It’s most unfair, because Niels Arden Oplev’s direction effectively captures the pace, grit and violence of the novel and it’s also stylishly shot. Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace turn in superb performances as the investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist and introverted hacker Lisbeth Salander respectively. Even if you know what’s going to happen, their winter investigating the fate of Harriet Vanger is both chilling and suspenseful. I’d easily choose this over David Fincher’s American remake, and can watch it and the sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, over and over again.

nordic noir movies

In Order of Disappearance (2014)

If you live in a cold country, you don’t mess with the guy who ploughs the snow. It’s an easy-to-remember rule which is broken by a gang of dealers led by ‘The Count’. They murder the only son of snowplough driver Nils Dickman (played by Stellan Skarsgard) and try to make it look like an overdose. The authorities won’t act, so what we get is a death-by-death account as Nils ploughs his way through the Norwegian underworld in Deathwish fashion. Other Nordic noir films rest on a blanket of moody atmosphere, but this one pulls us along with dark humour and a strong concept. It will remind you of Fargo. The Norwegian title of this film is Kraftidioten, which translates roughly as ‘power crazy’ or ‘stupid for power’, however the English title is much more fitting given the storytelling.

nordic noir movies

Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)

Having read Mercy, the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, I wasn’t sure Nikolaj Lie Kaas could play the role of Carl Morck. He’s not as overweight or quite as slovenly looking as the character off the page. Yet this is a faithful adaptation of the novel, grippingly recreating Morck’s search for politician Merete Lynggaard who disappeared from a ferry years back and whose case has never been solved. In fact, she’s been held captive and tortured all this time in a bizarre and spiteful manner. Can Morck and his assistant Assad (played here by Fares Fares) get to her in time? Nikolaj Lie Kaas has been on our screens more recently in Follow the Money.

nordic noir movies

Insomnia (1997)

If you enjoyed Stellen Skarsgard’s performance in the excellent BBC crime drama River, turn the clock back with this unsettling and original movie set in Norway’s arctic region. Swedish detective Jonas Engström (Skarsgard) is there to investigate the strangulation of a 17-year-old girl and while hunting for the killer he accidentally shoots his partner. Disoriented by the 24-hour sunlight, confused and stricken with guilt, he tries to cover up his mistake, but unfortunately somebody out there knows what he’s done, and it might just be the girl’s killer. Despite the summer sunshine, this film has all the bleak atmosphere you’d expect from Nordic noir. It was remade by Christopher Nolan – with Al Pacino and Robin Williams starring in an Alaskan setting – for Hollywood in 2002.

nordic noir movies

The Hunt (2014)

Mads Mikkelsen played the baddie in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale, but here turns in a moving performance as a man accused of paedophilia in a close-knit Danish community. The school where Lucas taught has closed, so he now works in a nursery where the kids actually love him. One day, his best friend’s young daughter implies that she’s seen his you-know-what. The accusations snowball, he loses his job, is arrested and ultimately his friends and neighbours set upon Lucas and his teenage son Marcus. Beautifully shot during the Danish autumn, one of the backdrops is a deer hunt. And as the relationship between Lucas and best friend Theo – played by Thomas Bo Larsson – is put to the ultimate test, it does indeed have an atmosphere a bit like The Deer Hunter.

nordic noir movies

Headhunters (2011)

We go from deer hunters to headhunters – the corporate kind, of course – in this production based on Jo Nesbo’s novel of the same title. The headhunter in question is Roger Brown, played by Aksel Hennie. As he meets wealthy men and women to discuss their careers, he also scopes out their art collections and gets his partner Ove to deactivate their security systems so he can steal their paintings. They bite off more than they can chew when one of their marks turns out to be ex-special forces – and what’s more, Roger’s wife has an affair with the man. Twists, tech, guns and some clever intrigue – just what you’d expect from a Jo Nesbo story, including a fair bit of violence.

See also… For crazy shotgun action in an 80s Swedish setting, The Hunters starring Rolf Lasgaard has a Deliverance zing to it. Undercurrent is a 2010 Icelandic film full of atmosphere about the crew of a fishing vessel dealing with a suicide. Though they’re horror and not crime films, Let the Right One In and Trollhunter are both brimming with that Nordic atmosphere too.

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Garrick Webster

Garrick Webster is the co-founder of the Crime Fiction Lover website and enjoys the work of James Ellroy, Nordic crime writers and almost any other good noir-ish mysteries. By day he is a journalist, editor and copywriter.

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    Great list. I’ve only seen The Bridge, Beck & a few other Dane & Swedish productions that are not listed here. Some of these may be too violent for me but there are a few i will order from the library. Our library has an excellent collection of nordic noir/suspense films & series – we’re so fortunate.
    Cheers to celluloid!

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