Blue Detective: “Trapped” avalanches Iceland to the forefront of Nordic Noir

ólafur darri ólafsson trapped icelandic tv show
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The mining is in high-gear in the Nordic Noir landscape. Where Fortitude broke the ice and tunneled into its festering recesses, creator Baltasar Kormákur’s Trapped thrives on creating its own living hell within the crevasse of an isolated Northern Icelandic port village. It’s in this frigid microcosm that a brilliantly acted, tense and bleak murder-mystery unfoldsfinally giving the quiet island-country a voice amongst one of the most alluring bleak film movements on the planet.

To be fair, the sublime, rolling glacial terrain of Iceland has long graced our screens. But, as location spots, its beauty lent itself more as a geographical ghostwriter to foreign and fictional lands. Consider the visually arresting opening sequence of Prometheus, or John Snow being informed of his limited mental acumen by his beloved, robin-haired Wildling. These scenes took place in Iceland, but the eventsas we know them cinematicallyreally unfolded in Planet LV-223, and “North of the Wall.” Heck, even the aforementioned Fortitude was filmed mainly in Iceland, even though the show is supposed to take place in Norway.

Fortitude season one stanley tucci

Fortitude‘s phenomenal first season included one of the best finales ever seen in a detective show. Its second season was serviceable.

Point being, Trapped is one of the first pieces of crime cinema to reach global audiences with a certified Icelandic export stamp on it. But more on that laterlet’s get to the plot.

Trapped begins with fire and iceits opening scene depicting a flashback of a young girl burned alive, followed shortly thereafter by a headless, limbless corpse being pulled out of the freezing ocean by stunned fishermen.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson trapped tv series iceland corpse

Lend me a hand…

As soon as local police start investigating the cadaver, a massive storm hits and the tiny port town is snowed in. This prevents the swinging-dick, bigwig police from Reykjavík to offer their assistance. It also becomes clear that the foul play is linked to a massive ferry that’s just docked. The ship’s shady captain, a corrupt mayor, a fishy hotelier and a slimy underling politico are just a few in the Clue-like assemblage of suspects that three small town cops must sift through to put the pieces together.

The most complex performance comes from the American-born veteran actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (recognizable from from his role as the grimy, prophetic meth dealer who delivered one of the baddest pieces of dialogue in one of True Detective Se1’s best scenes). His detective Andri plays the lead as a man with the look and softness of an oversized teddy bear, but also the fierce, hunting instincts of a polar bear.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson true detective trapped

“You got a demon, little man. And I don’t like your face. It makes me wanna do things to it.”

Other compelling performances come from Andri’s estranged wife Agnes (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir), visiting from out-of-town with a new boytoy in tow. As the storm shutters everyone in, Andri’s condition becomes even more pitiable as he endures his wife sharing a bedroom with boytoy down the hall from the couch he crashes on.

As the father of the incinerated girl, Pálmi Gestsson also turns in a complex performance as a man whose very existence is a rumination on grief and vengeance. In a show that doesn’t leave loose ends, his story comes full circle through a wicked stroke of poetic justice that ends in Gestsson delivering one of Trapped’s most profound and poignant scenes.

One last performance worth mentioning is that of Baltasar Breki Samper as Hjörturthe mysterious, scar-faced boyfriend of the dead girl. As he broodingly mopes and dopes around the little village in an oversized hoodie, Hjörtur becomes both in character traits and appearance the tortured embodiment of an Icelandic Jesse Pinkman.

jesse-pinkman-baltasar-breki-samper

      “Life’s a bitch…”                                 “Yeah, bitch.”

Now back to the interplay between Trapped and its country of origin. Despite that Trapped is Iceland’s highest-budgeted series on record, it doesn’t go to lengths to boast about, or showcase, a sense of geographical or national identity. The bulk of the series is filmed in the small, Northern port city of Siglufjörðura place removed from the tourism bustle that has hit the nation by storm in recent years. And while a small amount of the show’s activity takes place in Reykjavík, Trapped isn’t concerned with providing a cinematographic tour of its capitol. A brief cityscape shot is providedseemingly for no other purpose than narrative clarity.

blue lagoon iceland trapped series

Iceland’s stunning Blue Lagoon—a tourist draw Trapped could give two shits about.

This non-geo-centric approach is a departure from great crime shows like Breaking Bad, of which Vince Gilligan described its Albuqerque location as a “central character.” It’s also fitting, in multiple ways. It would seem counterintuitive to provide lingering, aerials of Iceland’s magnificently sublime glaciers and sprawling wilderness expanse in a show centered around a concept of claustrophobia. As a straightforward, bleak and rugged crime drama, Trapped is also under no obligation to kowtow to atmospheric localism to deliver the visceral gut punch it provides. And frankly, it doesn’t need it. This minimalist approach simply doesn’t hold the aesthetic appeal of similar dark, detective shows like Fortitude or The Killing.

That’s not to say that the cinematography is inept or ineffective in capturing a distinct feeling of placequite the opposite. It just so happens thatoutside of the show’s Icelandic dialogue and localeit could most likely have the same effect were it filmed in Alaska, the Antarctic, etc. Trapped is undoubtedly an Icelandic show. It’s just not unabashedly one.Ólafur Darri Ólafsson the shiningAs for narrative drawbacks, Trapped’s only one is that with such a large cast of characters and such a sprawling murder mystery, it can be difficult to remember who some of the side characters are when they’re mentioned in conjunction with investigations. The show could be difficult to follow if one didn’t simply binge itnot that each character doesn’t have a meaningful role to play, or that plotlines are overly complex. Someone involved in the production may have caught on to this, as each episode is prefaced by an appreciatvely throrough recap of events (necessary even when bingeing).

All said, Trapped is Nordic Noir at its bestthanks in large part to Ólafsfon’s standout performance, a well-crafted and resolved narrative, and an introspective ability to work within the emotional expanse of its geographically limited confines.

GRADE: A / A-
IMDb: 8.2

-Sam Adams

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4 thoughts on “Blue Detective: “Trapped” avalanches Iceland to the forefront of Nordic Noir

  1. torchlight

    Good to have you back so to speak Mr Adams. I tried my hardest to like Fortitude but even though I was engaged in the goings on it didn’t quite manage to hook me in. Going to put ‘Trapped’ on the list.

    So I had never seen any of ‘The Wire’ so after finishing ‘Better Call Saul’ (the latter being better than the original imho) I binge watched through the first series. McNulty is one of those characters in the wide plethora of bad men trying to do good. Or good men turned bad by circumstance, yes we are looking at you Connaghy, Nicholson and Cranston. First couple of episodes of series two are hitting the dopamine spot so far too. The scope of the series is incredible and truly one of those were you to miss an episode you wouldn’t have a clue as to who is doing what to whom!

    Films wise I saw the new Planet of the Apes, a fine popcorn movie, and perhaps one of the better war narratives ever scripted.

    Horror wise I have seen Life, (an intelligent Alien riff), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (pretty damn spooky), Split (M Night somewhat back on form), A Dark Song (A 5* cracker ensemble piece, and disturbing as well…….hell), Get Out (a horror with something to say), Pet (messed up in a good way), Alien Covenant (its Alien universe, whats not to love), and an oldie but a goldie ‘Black Death’.

    I wasn’t surprised that they messed up ‘The Dark Tower’ another King adaption to swerve. Apparently ‘IT’ is somewhat better, the trailer was ok, but you can rarely trust the film versions.

    Again good to have you back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to hear from you as well! Hm… Quick hits:
      I thought Fortitude got better and better as it went on (with the last three episodes or so being phenomenal). One thing I didn’t mention is that this Nordic Noir fare tends to build quite slowly. Seems to be a hallmark of the genre; slow narrative build, but palpable tension throughout. I see how Fortitude (or Trapped, The Bridge and other shows in this category) might not have that hook, however.

      As for Breaking Bad and the Wire, my two top series of all-time. There isn’t a close third. Started watching Better Call Saul and definitely enjoyed it. Didn’t do as much for me as BrBa but I’ve been meaning to get back into it. Love Mike’s character.

      Wow, you’ve got me hyped up to see the new Planet of the Apes. Loved the first two installments (one of the better popcorn franchises around, for my money) and have been waiting for this to hit streaming / cheap rental. Since you’re saying “one of the better war narratives ever scripted,” I now will make this a top viewing priority.

      Agree with your opinions on Split, Get Out, Alien Covenant. Autopsy of Jane Doe and Don’t Breathe are two that have been heavily on my radar but I haven’t gotten to yet. The trailer of Dark Tower is probably why I haven’t thought of Dark Tower in awhile and have little interest in it. A Dark Song is a new title to me–looks like a good rec.

      A few good recent views I can leave you with before I disappear into the ether: Devil’s Candy, The Void, Ozark. Will try to get more your way soon!

      Cheers, mate!

      Like

  2. torchlight

    OK, so I’m 4 episodes into Trapped and I have to bow to your arguments for watching it. Dark and primordial, suffocating and paranoid, confusing and inescapable. The bastard town brother of Silent Hill, Derry, or Twin Peaks. A seething mass of hate, jealousy and fear. What I am stunned by is the way the town unwraps itself and its secrets like a rotten onion for your viewing pleasure. The depth of character and storyline is comparable to the very best of TV shows. Some of the characters could have whole series based on just them, and lazier shows would have taken this easier route. However Trapped doesn’t miss a step. Everyone knows everyone, and episode by episode you get to see the worst of what the town has to offer. Favorite character has got to be the Rear Window-type wheelchair bound guy. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love your descriptions–“unwraps itself and its secrets like a rotten onion”–and very glad you’re into the show! Really one of my favorite series of the past several years. And yes, such a well-cast, well-scripted character play–spread wide but intermingling in constant, unnerving conflict, a bit like a series of tremors before an avalanche. Look forward to hearing you’re final thoughts.

      A few streaming things I’ve watched recently:
      -Gerald’s Game: Typical Stephen King psychological/paranormal terror in a minimalist story–worthwhile, but not much more than that).
      -Kettering Incident: Superbly acted, endless promise only rivaled by its massive letdown. I’d skip it unless the second season comes around and picks up the dropped ball.
      -Blair Witch: Very fun found-footage horror flick. I’ve seen better and more inventive horrors recently, but a solid B+.
      -Hellhouse LLC: One of my favorite found footage flicks of all-time. Was blown away by this thing. Perhaps it’s because it’s low budget, relatively unknown and I had little expectations, but this is a genuinely frightening flick. Dreadit folks seem to agree.
      Cheers!

      Like

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