‘The Valhalla Murders’

A brooding eight-part murder investigation miniseries finds veteran Reykjavick police detective, Kata (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) working on what proves to be Iceland’s first serial killer. Police profiler Arnar (Björn Thors), cold and efficious, originally from Iceland, is transferred from Oslo to assist in the investigation. Both have deep-seated family issues.

As two bodies with multiple stab wounds and slashed eyes are discovered within a day or two, the police are soon led to a now abandoned boys’ home, the isolated Valhalla. A third body is found. Identifying the dead as former staff members, Kata and Arnar find themselves in a race against time to ensure there are no more victims. The level of abuse inflicted upon the boys is slowly revealed as the investigation continues, which is in direct conflict to official reports.

The Valhalla Murders is far from original. Distracted cops with home-life concerns leading the investigation. Kata being passed over for promotion in favour of a relatively new female colleague. And, whilst wholly engaging, five episodes in, the case finds itself embroiled in serious melodrama. But there’s a sudden and much needed twist. Yet even then, a boys’ remand home, abuse, cover-up, revenge all feels somewhat predictable.

What makes this so different is the extraordinary location – a wintery, snowbound Iceland with days so short and nights so long, a sense of foreboding constantly exists. The abandoned Valhalla sits alone in the snowy wastes: the threat contained within darkness in suburban Reykjavick: even the oppressive rejection of a Jehovah’s Witness family of their son, Arnar, is moodily rendered in the grey half-light of winter’s snatched daylight. Add a well-written script, an ominous yet emotive soundtrack, stunning cinematography and fine performances and the result is a pretty thrilling narrative that sufficiently hooks the viewer to overlook its faults.

Rating: 72%


Dark, remote, sweeping landscapes dominate the Icelandic drama series as as the subglacier volcanic Katla continues its destructive activity twelve months after a massive eruption. And the glacier itself is slowly melting. With Katla spewing smoke into the air, the almost deserted village of Vik is constantly peppered with black ash. Yet its few remaining inhabitants experience more than just natural forces.

It’s moody, it’s atmospheric as a naked woman, encrusted in ash, is found wandering the barren slopes. With access to the area restricted, the arrival of Gunhild (Aliette Opheim) creates confusion. Things become more than a little odd when Gunhild recognises many of the townsfolk from a time twenty years earlier when she worked at the local hotel.

Katla is a slow-burn character drama that is stunningly shot in the onset of an Icelandic winter. The claustrophobic human drama in the village is offset by the wilds of the sea and the vastness of the open, desolate landscape cloaked not in snow but black ash. Central character Grima (Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð) continues to mourn her beloved sister Ása (Íris Tanja Flygenring), killed on the ice a year earlier: depression and medication has changed her character and relationship with husband Kjartan (Baltasar Breki Samper). Local policeman, the deeply religious Gísli (Þorsteinn Bachmann), is coping with the slow cancer-based death of his wife. Visiting geologist Björn Thors is also in mourning – for his seven year-old son killed three years earlier and the subsequent slow break-up of his marriage.

It’s the evolving interactions that is the mainstay of Katla. No spoilers but Gunhild is soon joined by others. And whilst there is eventually a somewhat underwhelming reveal in episode 7 as to what is going on, it’s almost secondary to the dramas in Vik itself and the physical and psychological impact of the destructive force of the volcano. It looks stunning, sounds wonderful (the soundtrack!), the acting spot-on yet Katla, with its mid-season pall and poor explantions will likely leave you somewhat disatisified.

Rating: 62%