Gripping, bleak yet hopeful

This is my review of Trapped [DVD].

This Icelandic contribution to Scandi Noir proved for me to be the most successful so far. The absorbing plot is essentially more plausible and realistic than is often the case, involving a slowly folding almost Shakespearean tragedy on the stage set of the remote coastal town of Seyðisfjörður, where some of the inhabitants are driven to crime through a complex brew of motives: panic induced by the shock of Iceland’s financial collapse in 2008, simple greed, or a gut desire for revenge. In the gradual revelation of the facts, all the main characters were developed as real people with flaws, conflicting emotions but often redeeming features at unexpected moments. The drama has the power to arouse our sympathy, if only rarely, for less appealing characters, even villains, along with flashes of impatience over, say, Andri’s self-centred ex-wife. Events unfold against the backdrop of the astonishing quantities of snow, burying cars and walls almost up to roof level, the bleak beauty of the white mountain slopes rising abruptly up from the the icy waters of the bay, the danger of an avalanche engulfing the town, which can be diverted by a dynamite explosion, itself a risky venture.

Andri Olafssun, the Reykjavik detective who has been banished to Seyðisfjörður for some misdeameanour, comes across at first as a shambling oaf, until the power and magnetism of the actor rapidly win us over. When blizzards cut the town off from the rest of civilisation, preventing the arrival of a team from the capital headed by Andri’s rival Trausti, he is forced to press ahead with investigations of the discovery of a mutilated torso, apparently connected with the arrival of a Danish ferry. This is way beyond the experience of Andri’s two junior colleagues who represent the woefully inadequate manpower at his disposal in a community in which serious crime has been a rare event. Both the earnest, quietly ambitious Hinrika and more impulsive Ásgeir, addicted to chess on the office computer after years of inaction, rise to the challenge of the sudden wave of crises. At the same time he has to deal with the stressful situation about which his parents-in-law have felt unable to forewarn him: the arrival of his ex-wife with new boyfriend, with plans to take his two young daughters back to Reyjkavik with them.

A further complication is the controversial plan for the leaders of the town to acquire land for a possible deal with the Chinese to develop Seyðisfjörður as a port, although it is unclear how, if at all, this has any bearing on the crime.

The drama combines action and suspense with a focus on showing people’s reactions to a wide range of emotions: fear, anger, regret or grief. Both the dialogue, even with sub-titles, and the acting are excellent. Often trapped in both a physical and mental sense, the characters seem like real people, not chosen for their good looks, often with crooked teeth and sagging skins, plus thick baggy jumpers to keep out the almost palpable cold. A sense of the thoughtfulness, stoicism and integrity of the Icelandic character (however illusory it may be) comes through

A few loose ends leave scope for a series to which I look forward, although doubting whether such a well-constructed and coherent drama can be created again. This drama passes the acid test of not leaving one feeling cheated at the end. My sole reservation is over Andri’s habit of running round in freezing weather with his jacket unzipped.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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