Bored of American thrillers? Nordic noir shows like 'The Valhalla Murders', 'Trapped' will fill you with dread
These Nordic noir shows with their melancholic pace and bleak aesthetics will open your world to what good thrillers look and feel like
Yes, there are good American thriller and crime drama series. Shows that not only dig deep into the human psyche but also portray an accurately bleak image of society. But they are not a dime a dozen. Shows like ‘Mindhunter’ and ‘True Detective’ (just the first season of the latter) made a tremendous impact on the genre. But for the most part, American popular culture is full of milquetoast stories that try to present a grim reality but fail spectacularly.
But thanks to the revolution brought about by streaming platforms, the whole world is now available in one place. And if you’re a fan of dark crime thrillers, then Nordic noir is the way to go. Nordic refers to the geographical and cultural region in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, which covers Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. And Nordic noir is a subset of the crime fiction genre, which is usually defined by brutal crimes, bleak settings -- the desolate backdrop only helps amplify the aesthetic that defines the genre, tortured and complicated protagonists, and strong, multilayered plots. The shows are mostly characterized by a dimly lit aesthetic and a slow and melancholic pace.
So, for this thoroughly non-exhaustive list, we’ll take a look at some of our favorite shows in the genre that can act as a gateway to more Nordic noir and more bleakness. Oh, and they are all available on Netflix. Here it goes:
‘The Valhalla Murders’
Inspired by real-life events, ‘The Valhalla Murders’ created by Thordur Palsson explores serial murders in Reykjavik, which are later linked back to an incident that took place more than three decades ago, at a boys’ home named Valhalla. As a spate of murders shakes up modern-day Reykjavik, detectives Kata and Arnar team up to seek the truth. Their investigations lead them to a horrific story that involved child abuse. ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is a bleak show that doesn’t offer any positive respite. It is a good place to begin if you want to understand what the genre has to offer.
The Swedish crime drama series created by Pontus Edgren and Martina Håkansson, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Malin Persson Giolito, follows Maja Norberg, a suspect at a deadly school shooting. The six-part story darts between a courtroom drama and past events -- her memories of events that led up to the shooting. Maja is the only student left alive after the shooting. The question viewers ask as they watch the show: Did she conspire with her boyfriend who planned the attack or is she an innocent bystander? The show is an emotional and harrowing tale and makes for a binge-watch as you personally try to connect the dots and figure out what happened.
This Icelandic mystery drama series, created by Baltasar Kormákur and written by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Clive Bradley, follows Andri Olafsson, the chief of police in a remote town in Iceland, solving the murder of a former townsman whose mutilated corpse is recovered by fishermen. ‘Trapped’ is a quintessential example of the genre, set against a bleak backdrop of a small, coastal town, which automatically sets the tone for the show. In two seasons, two different mysteries are followed and solved. But both seasons offer slow-burn stories that enthrall and intrigue. This show, by all standards, fulfills all the aforementioned qualities that define the genre and is a must-watch for anyone trying to watch shows like these.
This Norwegian noir crime drama series follows Nikolai Andreassen, a police detective from Oslo visiting his hometown near the Tista river. But soon enough, he is drawn into the investigation of the suicide of a local man. But things get complicated when his younger brother, Lars, appears to be implicated. ‘Borderliner’ offers a tight story and the customary dark undertones, accompanied by a cold backdrop that accentuates the story’s human horrors. It is again, a good place to start if you want to get a taste of what the genre has to offer.
A Finnish murder mystery, directed and created by Rike Jokela, starring Pihla Viitala, Lauri Tilkanen, Jani Volanen, and Tommi Korpela, is once again a quintessential example of the genre. ‘Deadwind’ centers on detective Sofia Karppi, a recently widowed mother of two, who returns to work not long after the death of her partner. It also follows Sakari Nurmi, a rookie who is transferred from the financial crime unit to the homicide unit as Karppi's partner. Their first case together follows the murder of a social affairs consultant. The show is realistically grim, has a good story, and offers viewers the satisfaction of watching a police story far away from the usual machismo that dominates the genre. ‘Deadwind’ is compelling and addictive. When it ends, you only crave for more stories like these.