Cold (Kuldi) – Review

Cold Glasgow Film Festival“Scandi noir” feels like it’s been around forever. Viewers and readers alike indulge in tales of bitter winters, detectives who are seen as outsiders or unorthodox, grisly murder scenes and thick, cosy knits. Whether you prefer Sarah Lund or Kurt Wallander, The Crow Girl or The Chestnut Man, the genre is much beloved and there are plenty of overlaps between page and screen.

So, it shouldn’t surprise cinema goers that Elingur Thoroddsen’s Cold (Kuldi, in Icelandic) is an adaptation of one of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novels. The film centres around Óðinn Hafsteinsson (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), a detective who returns to work after the suicide of his ex-wife. He is tasked with investigating a cold case – the death of two young boys at a juvenile detention centre in Krókur. The deaths took place in the 1980s and, quite quickly, Óðinn soon comes to believe that there is a link to the death of his ex-wife. But is that his grief thinking for him and seeing answers where there aren’t any? On top of that, he is worried about his daughter, Rún (Ólöf Halla Jóhannesdóttir) who is struggling to adapt to life without her mother.

For fans of the conventional Scandi noir, Cold offers something a little different. The film definitely has more of a “ghost story” feel to it. There are lots of walking down dark corridors, objects moving unexpectedly, unaccounted noises and a score that anticipates a jump scare or two. There aren’t your usual blood-soaked snow scenes, either. Although the film does open with a dramatic suicide, we don’t see so much as a hint of the gristle we are used to in this genre. Instead, the film flits between Óðinn in the present day and, in the 1980s, a young woman named Aldís (Elín Hall) who works at the detention centre. Both of whom, for different reasons, seem utterly haunted.

Although Elingur Thoroddsen’s film is, ostensibly, about a male police officer investigating a boys’ home, this is very much a film about female trauma. Aldís’ mother is in psychiatric care and is convinced that “The Shadow” has consumed her daughter. Aldís, herself, is beginning to panic that she is seeing and hearing things that shouldn’t be there. She is repeatedly told that she is just one in a long line of girls who “didn’t last very long” in their job – why is that? Meanwhile, Rún is haunted by her mother in her dreams and draws disturbing images that may or may not hint at what really happened the day her mother leapt to her death. What made Lára (Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir) die by suicide? The obvious cycles of abuse at the boys’ home are corporal, but these women are all facing something psychological.

Cold Glasgow Film FestivalThematically, all of these plot points give Cold an interesting edge and help it avoid being “just another” Scandi cop drama. In fact, the police investigation is perhaps the least interesting part of this film (and probably the plot element that spends the least amount of time on screen). Instead, Thoroddsen chooses to draw viewers into more ghostly elements, fleshing out his female characters and making their trauma credible and compelling. The scenes at the desolate Krókur, in particular, are very atmospheric and tense.

Although some of the plot twists are slightly predictable, there are quite a few more layers to this than you might expect. You are never quite certain if either Óðinn or Aldís are reliable narrators, given that they are dealing with various issues of loss, grief, addiction and unresolved generational trauma. The title of the film doesn’t even refer to the weather (in fact, at the start of the film, the radio announces that Iceland is preparing for its typical long summer days). Instead, it refers to Rún and how her parents “gave her a coldness, when what she needed was warmth and care.”

Cold (Kuldi) is an interesting take on the hugely successful Scandi noir genre. It offers up a relatively open ending that does leave you wanting a bit more. This is not about bloody deaths and renegade police officers but about a more insidious feeling of trauma. (Although, panic not, there is still a delightful array of knitted jumpers on display). For fans of things like The Valhalla Murders or Trapped, this is sure to be a treat.

NB – Make sure you stay for the end credits. The artwork over the first few minutes of these is striking in its eeriness. That really will give you the shivers.

Cold (Kuldi) is now playing at the Glasgow Film Festival. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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