It’s surprising that anyone visits Scandinavia anymore, let alone lives there. After all, judging by the spate of novels and their cinematic/television adaptations that have been released in recent years, a lot of terrible things happen there. That’s certainly the case in the new thriller from Icelandic director Oskar Thor Axelsson that combines familiar Nordic thriller conventions with supernatural plot elements. Compellingly creepy, I Remember You should well please the many fans of the genre.
The film, based on a best-selling novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (breathlessly described in the publicity materials as the “Queen of Icelandic Crime”), begins with an elderly woman hanging herself in a church. Investigating the suicide is a female detective (Sara Dogg Asgeirsdottir) and the only doctor available, Freyr (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), a psychiatrist still grieving over the unexplained disappearance several years earlier of his 8-year-old son during a game of hide-and-seek.
A parallel storyline concerns a trio of yuppies — married couple Garoar (Thor Kristjansson) and Katrin (Anna Gunnudis Guomundsdottir) and their single friend Lif (Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir) — who arrive at a rundown house on an island in the remote Westfjords region with the intention of renovating it and turning it into a summertime B&B.
The film’s tension slowly — and I mean slowly — increases as the events become more and more mysterious. The suicide victim is found to have burn marks in the form of crosses all over her back, many dating back years, that correspond to the ones scratched on the church’s walls. Freyr’s investigation leads him to discover that the elderly woman had numerous friends who also died under mysterious circumstances and that they may all be related by the death of a young boy decades earlier. Meanwhile, Katrin, who recently gave birth to a stillborn son, begins experiencing hallucinations which are either a result of her fragile emotional state or supernatural forces.
The pic is ultimately stronger on mood than plotting, as it seemingly takes forever for the storylines to merge and for the mystery to be revealed. But that atmosphere is effective indeed, with the filmmaker infusing the proceedings with ominous touches while thankfully foregoing the sort of cheap jump scares to which he easily might have easily resorted. Much as with the recent Michael Fassbender thriller The Snowman, the forbidding wintry landscapes on display are a story unto themselves.
I Remember You certainly traffics in clichés, such as its central character of an emotionally tortured investigator dealing with tragic events in his past. But the horror elements are relatively fresh to the genre, with director Axelsson teasing them out in intriguingly subtle fashion until the ending in which the various plot strands are satisfyingly tied together.
Johannesson delivers a powerful turn in the lead role, vividly conveying his character’s anguish and his determination to get to the bottom of the mysterious goings-on. And as is so often the case with Scandinavian film thrillers, there’s an array of supporting players with memorable faces who embody their roles with fully lived-in authenticity.
Production company: Zik Zak Filmworks
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Porvaldur David Kristjansson, Anna Gunndis Guomundsdottir, Augusta Eva Erlendsottir, Sara Dogg Asgeirsdottir
Director: Oskar Thor Axelsson
Screenwriters: Oskar Thor Axelsson, Otto Geir Borg
Producers: Thor Sigurjonsson, Skull Fr. Maimquist, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
Director of photography: Heimir Sverisso
Production designer: Heimir Sverrisson
Editor: Kristjan Loomfjoro
Costume designer: Helga Ros. V. Hanna