Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Erlingur Thoroddsen has done a fairly good job of cramming in an expansive and complicated story with very little compromise."

With a small film industry, Iceland has taken its time to catch on to the Scandinoir trend – though not actually in Scandinavia, it has a similar climate and closely related culture – but it has punched well above its weight when it comes to books in the genre. Cold is based on the hit novel Kuldi (translated into English as The Undesired) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and although it has a few shortcomings, it’s a good introduction for those with an appetite for such tales.

The standard advice when adapting a book to film is to strip out the subplots as much as possible. Short stories and novellas tend to be a better fit for a two hour runtime. Here, however, Erlingur Thoroddsen has done a fairly good job of cramming in an expansive and complicated story with very little compromise. This makes it possible for him to address the several different psychological and social themes in the novel, ranging from bereavement and mental illness to criticism of the children’s home system which has been coming under scrutiny in more and more countries in recent years, generally for the same distressing reasons.

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When it opens, father Óðinn (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) and daughter Rún (Ólöf Halla Jóhannesdóttir) are still reeling after the death of the latter’s mother, whose own mother has lingering doubts about the circumstances surrounding her death. Rún is getting into trouble at school and Óðinn is struggling to strike the right balance between protectiveness and discipline. He’s also making a shaky return to his work as a cold case detective, not helped by the fact that the first case to land on his desk involves child murder. As he investigates, the unhappy girl investigates her late mother’s belongings and uncovers a story which just might lead her to the same place.

Alongside all this, there are other elements of mystery. Why is Rún’s grandmother so worried about her? What is the mysterious ‘shadow’ that seems to haunt all the women in the family? Several additional mysteries append themselves to the children’s home. Past and present seem woven together in ways that bode ill for all concerned.

This crowded plotting leaves less room for character development so that some of the film’s revelations feel poorly supported, but the capable cast do a good job with what they’ve got, Kristbjörg Kjeld the standout as the grandmother. Brecht Goyvaerts’ cinematography gives each location its own distinctive troubling atmosphere. Though predictable in places, and not on a par with the classics of the genre, Cold still has enough going on to please fans. Screened at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival, which has a longstanding connection with Iceland, it leaves one hoping that some of the country’s other filmmakers might explore its rich supply of crime writing.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2024
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Murder mystery chiller unfolds across two time periods as a man and his daughter try to come to terms with a suicide while he investigates historic deaths at a juvenile centre.

Director: Erlingur Thoroddsen

Writer: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Erlingur Thoroddsen

Starring: Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Elín Hall, Selma Björnsdóttir, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir, Mikael Kaaber, Ólöf Halla Jóhannesdóttir, Björn Stefánsson, Baldur Björn Arnarsson, Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir, Stefán Jónsson, Vala Kristin Eiriksdottir

Year: 2023

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Iceland


Glasgow 2024

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