‘The Valhalla Murders’ Season 1 Review: A powerful whodunit that starts slow but strikes hard
The first Icelandic series on Netflix has all the elements of a classic murder mystery thriller and is perfectly binge-worthy if you are a fan of this genre
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Iceland? The land of Northern Lights or the mythical stories of Norsemen? Whatever your mind may conjure, you wouldn’t instantly imagine a place of gruesome murders and cold, gory pasts that haunt its people even today. As peaceful and visually breathtaking the Scandinavian country is, it holds many secrets. This series tries to establish that.
‘The Valhalla Murders’, as the name explains, is about, well, murders. For the first time, the tourist-friendly, snowy city of Reykjavik sees a serial killer on the loose. But the killer doesn’t target random people. The pick is very specific - old men, who are almost in the sunset years of their life. As such, you wouldn’t expect them to be involved in anything that could make someone want to kill them, and in the goriest way possible. The very first murder of a local addict/alcoholic, with 50 stab wounds (gouged eyes et al) is enough to establish the premise of the series and how horrifying it could turn out to be in the following episodes.
The narrative of ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is absolutely contradictory to how travel brochures present the country to the world. There’s barely any bright, feel-good moments. And being a little slow-burn makes it appear menacing all the more. Yes, there are certain places, like in the first three episodes, where you desperately want things to move fast and see what’s next. In simple words, the eight-part series is quintessentially noir and befits the definition of that genre.
Complementing the narrative, the treatment is equally dark and ominous. And if you want to experience it, you need to be patient and hold onto the spaced-out subplots. For instance, the pilot episode only explores detective Katarin/Kata Eligsson (Nína Dögg Filippudóttir), her struggles at work, home, being a mother, and trying to find a harmonious working relationship with her new colleague, Arnar (Björn Thors). Throughout the first couple of episodes, you do tend to feel that the plot is straying from the core point in the discussion and the pace starts to feel dragged, just focusing on Kata and her problems. But soon, you realize why it is important to establish these aspects of her character.
On a deeper level, this is a story about how wrongdoings of the past can never be undone and how they can come around and make you pay, even if decades later. Now, this idea is also somehow weaved into the main characters’ journey. Arnar’s painful, abusive childhood and Kata’s struggle with her dark secret results in certain mistakes each of them had made in their respective lives. Remember, how our lives are the sum of our own choices?
What’s also very fascinating about these two disturbed characters, is that they might be broken individually, but manage to help each other heal, while trying to work together.
Both Nína Dögg Filippudóttir and Björn Thors are locally known actors and although the rest of the world might not know them well, their performances in this series will now definitely make them recognized.
A well-crafted thriller, the eight-episode series does have all the quintessential elements of how a murder mystery should be, albeit in Icelandic. But you cannot expect the typical, Hollywood-style, high-octane ride through the mystery and the final discovery.
Without spoiling it any further, all we can say for ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is that this is a great watch, especially if you are a fan of whodunits or generic crime thrillers. So, if you are waiting to catch it over the weekend, then this might be just what you need.
All eight episodes of ‘The Valhalla Murders’ are currently streaming on Netflix.