Tag Archives: Norwegian horror

Fjords of Forgettable


by Brandon Thomas

If we’ve learned anything from horror cinema over the decades, it’s that Europe is a scary place and to avoid it at all costs. Werewolves on the moors, rage zombies, predatory hostels – just go to Myrtle Beach again and try your luck with the drunk rednecks. And now, with Sacrifice, co-writers/co-directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian give us a taste of the unsavory side of Norway.

Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) return to Isaac’s birthplace on a remote Norwegian island to claim his inheritance. Unknown family truths bubble to the surface as Isaac confronts a dark legacy and Emma fears not only for her husband’s sanity but for the life of her unborn child. 

Sacrifice is a frustrating film from the start. The basic “fish out of water” premise is one we’ve seen time and time again, and Sacrifice offers nothing new to this subgenre. The opening credits promise a story built around the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but the closest we get to Lovecraft is unsubtle nods to Cthulhu.

Subtlety in horror certainly has its place. There are countless horror movies that take a more methodical approach to dole out the scares. These movies eventually pay off, though. Sacrifice is a film that tries to build tension and atmosphere, but whiffs at every opportunity. Semi-odd behavior from backwoods Norwegian folk isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat material. And I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t mention how the film uses the tried and true “character wakes up from a nightmare that seemed real” device a grand total of four times. 

At this point, I was hoping the movie was a dream.

So much of the films’s tension is built around the unraveling of Isaac and Emma’s relationship. The problem with this is that the characters toggle between unlikable and uninteresting from the get-go. Isaac’s descent into madness never once borders on tragedy. Instead, this turn feels like the filmmaker’s checking off a box on their genre bingo card. 

Even the illustrious Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) doesn’t come out unscathed. It’s a role that asks her to do little more than be a suspicious local and deliver an uneven Norwegian accent. 

The film does get a lot out of the location shooting in Norway. The lush green fjords with their raging waterfalls inject a strong sense of place. These scenic establishing shots help set an “otherness” to the island, even if the remainder of the film does a poor job of maintaining the eerie mood. 

Sacrifice tries to set itself alongside Europe-centric horror movies like The Wicker Man and Midsommar, but instead comes off as a watered-down, and quite lazy, copy of better movies. 

The Water’s Not Fine

Lake of Death

by George Wolf

If your experience with Norwegian horror has you expecting Lake of Death to bring on the blondes and the folklore – you’re halfway there. The coifs check out, but writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm trades some homeland roots for flashes of decidedly American inspiration.

It’s a bit curious, since Robsahm (Amnesia) is updating the 1942 novel (and 1958 film) De dødes tjern– which is credited with kickstarting Norway’s interest in the horror genre. Clearly, a cabin in the woods can be creepy in any language.

A distracted Lillian (Iben Akerlie) brings a group of friends and one dog to a remote lakeside cabin for one more getaway before the place is sold. Her gang is ready for a good time, but Lillian is still haunted by the memory of her twin brother Bjorn, who disappeared one year earlier after taking a walk in these very same woods!

One of Lillian’s friends hosts a paranormal podcast, which is Robsahm’s device for filling everyone in on the local legend of the lake. You can get lost in its serene beauty, they say, lose touch with reality, and maybe even get the urge to kill.

Mysterious happenings, paranoia and suspicion ensue, but Robsahm sets the brew on a very slow boil, taking a full hour before we get one well developed visual fright. Lillian’s sleepwalking, hallucinations, and frequent nightmares lay down an overly familiar framework that’s peppered with music stabs and repeated name-dropping of horror classics from Evil Dead to Misery.

As an attempt to bridge generational horror, it’s all very commendable but little more than workmanlike. Robsahm has better success with her commitment to the lake’s spellbinding beauty, and with her repeated trust in cinematographer Axel Mustad.

Shooting in wonderfully earthy 35mm, Mustad creates a gorgeous tableau of woods and water, evoking the dreamy atmosphere required to cash the check written by the lake’s urban legend.

There may be little that surprises you in Lake of Death, but a sterling partnership between director and cameraman makes sure you have a fine souvenir from the visit.

Free Bird


by Hope Madden

A surprising, gorgeously filmed prologue creates a mood: a little girl, bundled in a red coat, follows her shotgun-toting father across a frozen pond into the snowy woods. She looks periodically through the ice at the fish moving beneath the ice. In the quiet woods, the two spy a deer. The girl holds her breath, staring silently at the animal while her father prepares to shoot.

The film never again rises to the exquisite, icy tension of its opening scene, but it does work your nerves and keep you guessing. As we follow that little girl, Thelma (Eili Harboe), through the uncomfortable, lonely first weeks of college we gather that her parents are very Christian and very over-protective.

Things could have gone all predictable and preachy from there, but co-writer/director Joachim Trier knows what you’re thinking and he plans to use it against you.

Thelma is a coming-of-age film at its cold, dark heart. The horror here lies in the destructive nature of trying to be something you are not, but here again, nothing in Thelma is as simple or cleanly cut as the beautiful framing and crystal clear camera work suggest.

As familiar as many of the conflicts feel, Trier never lets you forget that something’s not entirely right about Thelma. She seems normal, maybe just sheltered, but that opening scene nags at you.

Like Julia Ducournau’s magnificent coming-of-age horror Raw, Thelma dives into the issues swirling around post-adolescent freedoms and taboos in daring and insightful ways. Trier also fills the screen with metaphorical dangers of indulgence and self-acceptance, although his protagonist’s inner conflicts lead to different results. Where Raw’s horror is corporeal, Thelma’s is psychological.

Thelma takes its time and lets its lead unveil a fully realized, deeply complex character full of contradictions—inconsistencies that make more sense as the mystery unravels. Though the result never terrifies, it offers an unsettling vision of self-discovery that’s simultaneously familiar and unique.