It may be getting warmer outside, but there’s always room in our icy cold hearts for the frozen tundras of Nordic noir. The genre, which tells dark and twisty investigative crime stories in brutally cold Scandinavian settings, has permeated books, film, TV, and even music. Here are some of the top pieces of Nordic noir to help you get your fix.
If you’ve seen the American remake on AMC, you know the premise of The Killing: a female detective on the cusp of retirement is lured into the case of a murdered teenage girl. Sofie Gråbøl stars as Sarah Lind, whose investigation finds her wading into the political corruption plaguing Copenhagen. Forbrydelsen, as it’s called in Danish, which translates to The Crime, is much colder and more formal than the American The Killing, giving it a true Nordic noir ambiance. It’s also much longer, with more episodes per season, which may thrill you or enrage you depending on how deep you want to go.
Where to stream: Some available on Topic
This Finnish creeper offers up more snowy mountains and spooky forests than the gray city locales of some other Nordic noir TV. Set in Lappeenranta, a town along the Russian border, the story follows detective Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen), a brilliant investigator with a photographic memory and a bit of social awkwardness. The serial killers who Sorjonen hunts are some of the most dark and twisted we’ve seen in similar series. (One of the killers likes to lock his victims in ice fishing cages, for example.) Thankfully, Sorjonen’s not a dour loner, but rather a family man with a wife and daughter. His warmness with them contrasts the truly frigid landscapes.
Where to stream: Netflix
Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy practically launched the popularity of Nordic noir novels in America. The story of goth hacker private investigator Lisbeth Salander teaming up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist to solve gruesome murders and take down corrupt politicians finds its way into truly dark territory. All three of Larsson’s novels were made into films in Sweden, while the first book made it to Hollywood at the hands of David Fincher. Larsson died in 2004, but the Millennium characters continue in three books from Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz. A third trilogy is on its way from Karin Smirnoff, and it will be interesting to see how a female author pairs the misogynistic violence with the feminist strength that permeate the series.
Speaking of Hollywood, Nordic noir often gets the Hollywood treatment: American adaptations of Scandinavian books, films, and series are ripe for the taking with their thrilling stories and compelling settings. Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake of Insomnia—which was packed with stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank—centered on a case that took place in Alaska. But Nolan’s Hollywoodized version wasn’t nearly as grim as the 1997 Norwegian original. Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg and starring Stellan Skarsgård, the story follows the investigation into the murder of a teenage girl in an isolated town. Whereas in Nolan’s Insomnia there is a definitive good and bad, the original is much more concerned with the existential crises that inhabit the darkest parts of everyone’s minds.
Where to stream: HBO Max
Faroe Islands: Eivør Pálsdóttir
About 200 miles north of Scotland and midway between Norway and Iceland lie the Faroe Islands. On these subarctic islands, sunny days are rare, and puffins roam alongside Faroese sheep. These islands are where singer and songwriter Eivør Pálsdóttir got her start at age 13. Decades later, over the course of her eclectic career, Pálsdóttir has mixed traditional Faroese folk music with electronic sounds and haunting Scandinavian vocals. Gamers may recognize her work in the 2018 version of God of War, which utilized Norse mythology. She’s also providing some medieval-esque tunes for the BBC’s Anglo-Saxon series The Last Kingdom. But for more of the modern Nordic noir sound, check out her songs “Salt” from her 2015 Faroese album “Slør” and “Mánasegl” from her most recent album “Segl.”
Denmark: The Midnight Witness by Sara Blaedel
Danish writer Sara Blaedel is called Denmark’s “Queen of Crime.” Her most famous novels follow a Danish homicide detective named Louise Rick, who takes it upon herself to solve crimes committed against marginalized women. Her novel The Forgotten Girls was published in North America in 2015 and kicked off the American obsession with Louise Rick. But to go back earlier chronologically in Rick’s story, hit up 2018’s The Midnight Witness, in which Blaedel incorporates her experiences as a former journalist. Bron Studios nabbed the rights to turn Louise Rick into a TV series back in 2017, and we can’t wait to see the character in live action.
Iceland: The Valhalla Murders
Speaking of female detectives: Iceland’s The Valhalla Murders stars Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as Detective Katrín “Kata” Gunnarsdóttir. Think of her as Iceland’s version of Mare of Easttown. Kata is tough and doesn’t take anyone’s nonsense, and much like Mare, her own life is kind of in shambles. Also like Mare, she’s forced to work with a new male partner—only her version is a secretive Norwegian who’s not nearly as adorable as Evan Peters’ Detective Zabel. Iceland’s gorgeous scenery is another major character here, with its snowy landscapes on full display.
Where to stream: Netflix
Denmark: The Hunt
There are no grisly murders in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 film The Hunt, but the icy tension and cold characters give it enough Nordic noir weight, and there is a crime at the story’s center. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a teacher in a small Danish town who is accused of being a pedophile. Word of the accusation spreads as Lucas tries to defend his name, keep his friends, and fight for his innocence. The Hunt premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where Mikkelssen won Best Actor for this daring and moving performance, while Vinterberg was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime in the U.K.
Norway: Juno Jensen AKA Pieces of Juno
Nordic noir has become such a phenomenon that you can even listen to a soundtrack specifically designed to accompany the TV shows that take place in these cold Scandinavian countries. The album “Nordic Noir” from West One Music Group features music from Scandinavian film and TV composers and perfectly reflects those moments of blood splattered over pristine white snow or investigators lurking down a dark corridor. One of the musicians worth spending time with is Juno Jensen, who performs as Pieces of Juno. Check out her haunting yet thumping song “Your Mouth Is a Dragon,” which feels like it’s accompanying a jaded Scandi detective going about their day.
Denmark/Sweden: The Bridge
“One body, two murders, two countries, and one bridge.” Intrigued yet? This TV co-production between Denmark and Sweden tells the story of a body found on the bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden. The body has been cut in half at the waist and placed exactly on the border line between the two countries. Swedish detective Saga Norén and Danish Detective Martin Rohde must work together to solve the crime while dealing with the clash between their two countries. Giving away any more details would ruin a pretty twisted surprise. There’s good reason that The Bridge has become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed Nordic noir series.
Where to stream: AppleTV+
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