Another quality release courtesy of Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir stable, Kjell Sundvall’s 2011 film False Trail (a direct sequel to his 1996 outing Jägarna, aka The Hunters), is a suitably dark, snaking tale of familial secrets and lies set against the expansive Swedish pine forests. Borrowing elements from some of Scandinavia’s finest recent exports (both Wallander and The Killing are clear influences), Sundvall’s thriller may not feel as fresh or as cutting as it perhaps should. Yet, what False Trail sets out to do, it does remarkably well – with particular praise reserved for two dominant performances from Rolf Lassgård and the ever-watchable Peter Stormare.
Set fifteen years after super cop Erik Bäckström (Lassgård) was forced to leave his position at the Norrland Police Department, False Trail picks up the action with the disappearance of a young girl in the detective’s hometown. Bäckström has since risen to become the National Murder Commission’s best interrogator, now based in Stockholm, but when Erik’s boss orders him back to Norrland to solve what has since become reclassified as a brutal murder, he reluctantly returns to face upsetting memories of the past. What initially appears to be an open and shut case quickly spirals into a deadly game of cat and mouse between Bäckström and newfound nemesis Torsten (Stormare), a local police office and stepfather to Erik’s own nephew, Peter (Kim Tjernström).
Anyone well-versed in the recent UK influx of Scandinavian crime dramas will no doubt be able to hypothesise False Trail’s narrative trajectory well in advance of the final climactic showdown (the film’s somewhat bland English language title does it few favours in that regard), yet there’s still a great deal of enjoyment to be taken from the platitude of subplots that pepper the central murder investigation. Crucial to the film’s success is the high calibre ensemble that Sundvall has once again assembled, with Lassgård’s returning foray as Bäckström a pivotal casting decision. Lassgård plays the role superbly, with the requisite contrasting grit and warmth necessary for a character so haunted by his past actions – and desperate to make amends for them.
However, the standout performance arguably comes from Stormare, given a rare opportunity to really spread his wings in a co-starring role. Torsten certainly isn’t your average sleepy-town ranger, and his proficiency with a hunting rifle makes him both a forceful ally and/or potentially highly dangerous antagonist for the valiant Bäckström. With the exception perhaps of Eero Milonoff’s Jari – a one-dimensional ne’er-do-well who quickly becomes the prime suspect in the murder enquiry – the rest of the supporting cast handle themselves extremely competently. A special mention should go to Annika Nordin, as Torsten’s long-suffering wife Karin. Behind her placid exterior lies, like Erik, a damaged soul tormented by her past transgressions.
On the face of it, Sundvall’s False Trail may be little more than an extended, feature-length episode of your favourite Nordic Noir show. However, when the narrative this compelling and the characters this well realised, ‘more of the same’ may be just what the doctor ordered for those long, cold winter nights.