Fright Club: Best Swedish Horror

Sweden has been making freaky, introspective, gorgeous, nightmarish horror for fully 100 years. Why has it taken us so long to celebrate that? Here are our favorite Swedish horror movies.

5. Haxan (1922)

Part power point presentation, part reenactment, Benjamin Christensen’s semi-documentary about the hysteria of witchcraft from early times through 1922 is a remarkable piece of cinema.

His thoroughness and fascinating point of view – particularly logical and liberal for 1922 – help the film keep your attention. But what makes this 100+ year old effort remain a fixture for movie buffs is its gorgeous filming. Yes, the use of camera tricks are impressive for the time, but dramatic segments often take on the look of a Renaissance painting.

Christensen’s use of light and framing sometimes surpass even contemporaries Murnau and Dreyer, and his playful depictions of Satanic orgies – That butter churn! That tongue! – never lose their charm.

4. Koko-di Koko-da (2019)

What about Groundhog Day, but with unrelenting psychological dread? That’s the premise of Johannes Nyholm’s horror fable Koko-di, Koko-da, and it’s a testament to writer/director Nyholm that the film’s excruciating time loop manages to go from torturous to therapeutic.

One grieving couple’s unresolved trauma starts to literally stalk them in the shape of three carnivalesque figures, with each nightmare encounter ending the same way: some gruesome death, and then Tobias wakes up to repeat the loop all over again.

Koko-di Koko-da is not a pleasant film to watch, but it is often a beautiful one. And it lays bare the truth that there’s no escaping misery in life—that the only way to break the cycle is to confront it, pain and all.

3. Border (2018)

Sometimes knowing yourself means embracing the beast within. Sometimes it means making peace with the beast without. For Tina—well, let’s just say Tina’s got a lot going on right now.

Border director/co-writer Ali Abbasi has more in mind than your typical Ugly Duckling tale, though. He mines John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let the Right One In) short story of outsider love and Nordic folklore for ideas of radicalization, empowerment, gender fluidity and feminine rage.

The result is a film quite unlike anything else, one offering layer upon provocative, messy layer and Abbasi feels no compulsion to tidy up. Instead, he leaves you with a lot to think through thanks to one unyieldingly original film.

2. Let the Right One In (2008)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure. Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar, with his blond Prince Valiant haircut, falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Oskar and Ali grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can. The film offers an ominous sense of dread, bleak isolation and brazen androgyny – as well as the best swimming pool scene perhaps ever. Intriguingly, though both children tend toward violence – murder, even – you never feel anything but empathy for them. The film is moving, bloody, lovely and terrifying in equal measure.

1. Hour of the Wolf (1968)

An atmospheric masterpiece, Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on artistic conflict and regret is a haunting experience.

Bergman favorites Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman are a married couple spending time on an isolated, windswept island. Ullman’s Alma is pregnant, and her relationship with her husband becomes strained as his time and attention become more and more consumed by visions, or demons – or maybe they’re just party people.

Von Sydow’s character is tempted with the decadence missing from the wholesome life that may be dissatisfying to him. But it’s Ullman, whose performance spills over with longing, that amplifies the heartbreak and mourning that color the entire film.

Shot in incandescent black and white, with Bergman’s characteristic eye for light and shadow, Hour of the Wolf is a glorious, hypnotic nightmare.

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