Scandinavian drama has been creeping onto our screens with a growing presence over the last few years, and with some calling this the “Golden Age of Television”, it’s not difficult to see why. Leading the way in this market we have ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’ – bleak urban thrillers that have managed to entice subtitle-phobes to take a chance on the knitted jumper wearing detectives, unearthing grizzly cases with award-winning results. Venture over to the Nordics, specifically Iceland, and we have ‘Trapped’, another foreign-language drama making waves on UK television screens.
It’s the most expensive TV series ever made in Iceland (costing just over £5.2 million), comprising of 10 episodes, and has since been met with widespread critical acclaim. A series conceived, produced and directed by Baltasar Kormákur (pictured above), the man behind the ‘Everest’ film that hit cinemas last year, who takes us out of the dark and gloomy cities and drops us in the small isolated fishing town of Seyðisfjörður. Emerging post-economic collapse in present day Iceland, regularly covered with blankets of snowfall, the scene is set, and over the course of the series this little town will be shaken to its very core.
‘Trapped’ wastes no time in launching the viewer into a spiral of unpredictability, as an unidentifiable floating torso (just a torso; head, arms, legs all chopped off) is pulled from the sea by a small fishing boat, while a large cruise ship from Denmark docks up bringing with it an additional wealth of potential suspects. Overwhelming, confusing and nerve-wracking, and it’s just getting started.
Iceland is aesthetically beautiful, and as the opening credits roll over the fjords and glaciers, we are reminded of its intriguing and unforgiving landscape. Yet this beauty is turned on its head, as the opening footage is spliced together with close-ups of the dismembered corpse, horror begins to seep into the tone. This shift in mood is realised further as a large storm looms over the town, trapping everyone present in a cold desolate state. As the events begin to unfold, the claustrophobic nature of being isolated accelerates the dark atmosphere of paranoia, and tensions rise to an impalpable level.
It centres on Andri Olafsson, played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (pictured above), as the local chief of police, attempting to join the dots of the case with what little resources he has. Andri is a quiet, contemplative man. He says very little, just stares into the distance, and pierces right to your heart with his bear-like face, transferring the internal anguish from his divorce, the stress of the sudden workload, his mysterious background in Reykjavík and his desire to help everyone and do everything in the face of adversity. You want to give him a hug and buy him a beer, but then he’d probably just stand there in the freezing cold with snow in his beard, and opt for a pint of milk.
He is flanked by his two loyal police officers; Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir as Hinrika, morally upright and equally quiet, she is shocked by the latest revelations in her small town. She looks up to Andri as he demonstrates his determination to solve this case, a revived enthusiasm for the job, embracing what he describes as “real” police work. Her partner, Ásgeir played by Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, has been a well-respected police officer in the town for many years. We’re introduced to him just playing chess on his computer, but he too transforms, relishing the opportunity to do anything Andri asks of him, even if upon first seeing the corpse he vomits into the sea.
The less said about the other characters the better; part of this shows appeal is the way the rest of the cast is introduced. The investigation leads our trio of law enforcers down many avenues, there are suspects but nothing is for sure. They are without help, without technology, acting on pure detective instinct and their own knowledge of the locals. As a new character is presented, they too have an equally developed backstory, or a current personal narrative that could be a possible link to the goings-on in this small town. It becomes a patient guessing game, an Agatha Christie styled murder-mystery with clues and red-herrings being carefully placed for all to find. The subtle evolution of most of the characters involved shifts our perceptions on an episodic basis, unsettling the viewer in the best possible way, resulting in compelling viewing from start to finish.
Shot over six months in Seyðisfjörður, you have to admire the effort taken to create such a show. Much in the same way ‘The Revenant‘ was lauded for the harsh conditions endured by the cast and crew, no doubt all underwent similar experiences at times to succeed in making an impeccably produced drama, with cinematography that was a joy to behold.
Full marks go to the eclectic cast, with not one misstep from any character, each acting with absolute conviction, but avoiding any descent into melodramatic over-performance. In many scenes only glances are shared, and it’s enough to do the job. All of this is amplified by the score from Jóhann Jóhannsson (Prisoners, Theory of Everything, Sicario), as if viewing Andri’s engrossing performance without welling up wasn’t hard enough, I challenge you to not be moved when accompanied by this outstanding soundtrack.
For all its twists and turns, each episode ramping up the volatility and excitement, the experience of living within this quaint town as it transforms into a shape-shifting icy version of hell on earth is like no other TV series I’ve watched before. Furthermore, what a rare treat that the series finale has a payoff and resolution that is absolutely worth the wait. The lines of good and evil are blurred; morality is questioned at every corner, and in doing so Kormákur has created something unique in this crime-drama-meets-horror.
Fundamentally, by establishing and constantly introducing realistic often questionable characters at the core of the drama, our focus remains on people as opposed to the acts committed. We become lured into the emotion as we bond with the characters; we feel the tension of every cliff-hanger, we exist just as they do in this ice-cold suspended state of uncertainty, so that when an event does happen, it shocks you like it shocks everyone else.
In the last episode, it is asked by one of the characters, with a look of complete astonishment and fright on their face; “What happened here?!” A great question, one with an answer I am still trying to recover from. I want to go back and watch it again, knowing what I know now. ‘Trapped’ is addictive TV at its finest, and another fine addition to the crime drama genre.
TRAPPED is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray through Arrow Films and Nordic Noir & Beyond.