While the Nordic Noir wave has seen a recent explosion in popularity, it is worth remembering that the genre has been successful for several decades now. From Insomnia (1997), starring Stellan Skarsgård as a Swedish cop with a sleeping disorder, to Festen (1998), Thomas Vinterberg’s excellent Dogme 95 piece, Nordic cinema has travelled across the cold and beautiful landscape encompassing all manners of criminal plots. While the subject matter of The Hunters (Jägarna), a 1996 Swedish crime drama focused on the poaching of reindeer, may not quite seem as dark as soon of its contemporaries, it still makes for tense and thrilling viewing.
Rolf Lassgård plays Erik Bäckström, a detective working in Stockholm. He has a slightly murky past – we are aware of several complaints against his practices – and one particular case that resulted in the shooting of a criminal hangs around his neck like an albatross. Upon his return to the family home for a funeral, he decides to relocate to his rustic roots to escape the stresses of the big city. He moves in with his brother into their sizeable country house and gets a job at the local precinct. Initially, the locals are happy to see him back, though they give him a gentle ribbing for a perceived fleeing from his humble background. This gentle ribbing soon turns into full-scale warfare when Erik becomes entangled in a local case.
Poachers are ploughing their way through the indigenous reindeer population, and while some of the residents are unhappy about it, most seem strangely compliant. What follows is a murky mystery, a progressively dark plot that unravels the psychologies of the local town. While Vinterberg’s recent film The Hunt (Jagten, 2012) displayed the judgemental pack mentalities of small town populations, The Hunters focuses on the collusion of tradition, the collective belief that outsiders have no right to meddle in their affairs no matter how illegal. Both films succeed in building a gripping tension that perforates into the viewer, keeping you right on the edge of your seat until the conclusion.
With an assured touch from director and co-writer Kjell Sundvall, this is a methodical drama that twists and turns frequently enough to keep it exciting. It also looks beautiful, appropriately highlighting the gorgeous Swedish countryside around the fields of Norrland. While it may be less thematically grim than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011) or other Nordic products of that ilk, this still comes highly recommended for fans of Scandinavian crime dramas.
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