Around the World in 31 Days: Iceland


Movie poster. Source: IMDb

The excellent Icelandic horror mystery I Remember You was a tough watch. Not because there was gore or extreme violence. In fact it’s quite a beautiful looking film. But because in the story, there was a whole bunch of heartbreak showing through the pragmatic, Nordic stoicism of the characters.

I Remember You (2017)
Director: Óskar Thór Axelsson
Writer: Óskar Thór Axelsson, Ottó Geir Borg, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (novelist)
Notable Cast: Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Elma Stefania Agustsdottir, Thor Kristjansson, Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir
Plot: A couple moves to a small-abandoned city in Iceland to renovate an old house. Soon they find that the city guards several dark mysteries. Freyr, a doctor in a city in Iceland, assists local police when an elderly woman is found hanged inside of an old church. (source: IMDb)

Commentary: There is of course more to add to the synopsis above. Freyr the doctor is haunted by the tragedy of his little son Benni, who has been missing for three years. Let’s note Jóhannesson‘s superb and understated performance. The couple, Katrín and Garðar have a third companion with them to restore the old whaling station: Líf. Katrin recently suffered stillbirth. The ensuing triangle is essential to the plot.
One plot point apropos of nothing: when Freyr is informed that Benni’s ghost is active and seeking a resolution, he is done so by his ex-wife’s attorney. Not by a psychic, medium, fortuneteller or any of the stereotypically old female characters to whom this power is usually ascribed. Instead, by a steadfast and wealthy looking blue collar professional whom one would expect would have no time or inclination for anything supernatural.

I Remember You features all the elements of Nordic noir: bleakness, melancholy, tragedy, stark realism. The script is as spare and frosty as the landscape of Iceland, which is a character in the film (especially the location of the old house being renovated.) I’d like to say there’s a touch of the sub-genre known as ‘Folk Horror’ but I’m unsure it qualifies in this context.

The film is visually very striking, I enjoyed all the performances, and its scenes of horror are well executed. Its score was awe-inspiring and is probably the exact sound of being alone with your pain and grief in a vast and very empty frozen wasteland.

What We’re Afraid Of: Nordic noir also typically has layered plots that expose the hidden ills beneath the surface of Scandinavian society. This film’s converging story threads – including a supernatural element – could well be providing a critique of Iceland about which I would have no clue.

The tragedy of child loss is all over this film, and when it’s from the perspective of the character of Freyr (Jóhannesson) its more heartbreaking and frightening than when a supernatural angle, and an abusive religious conspiracy, is introduced. Like Hereditary, that particular horror isn’t coded, it runs parallel to the monsters.

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