'Trapped': TIFF Review

Trapped - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
More Twin Peaks than Everest, this TV serial thriller shows some promisingly quirky Icelandic touches.

Everest director Baltasar Kormakur moves into small-screen Nordic Noir territory with this deep-frozen murder mystery set in a snowbound coastal town.

Iceland is pretty close to being an earthly paradise, if we can believe Michael Moore's latest TIFF-launched documentary Where To Invade Next. But it looks more like a deep-frozen outpost of Hell in this small-screen serial thriller created, produced and directed by the country's most feted film-making export, Baltasur Kormakur. A small-town suspense saga spread across 10 chapters. Trapped premiered this week in Toronto's new TV drama sidebar Primetime just as pre-release buzz builds for Kormakur's all-star action blockbuster Everest.

Set in a remote coastal town in deep midwinter, Trapped is a multi-character murder mystery squarely pitched at the established global audience for "Nordic Noir" TV hits like The Killing and The Bridge. Soon after this pilot episode screened at TIFF, the Weinstein Company announced it had bought U.S. distribution rights. Across Europe, major players including the BBC and ZDF are already on board. Kormakur is now in a separate bidding war over remake rights.

Like all great TV drama, Trapped opens with a vigorous bout of cunnilingus closely followed by a deadly explosion. Wham, bam, thank you Iceland. That's the first brazenly contrived plot hook to keep us coming back, barely five minutes into the action. Needless to say, these cryptic events remain unresolved in this first chapter. Instead, Kormakur leaps forward seven years to introduce his bluff, bearlike, bearded hero Andri (Olafur Darri Olafsson), a world-weary small-town police chief raising two young daughters and trying to avoid his ex-wife's creepy new partner.

Wrenched away from domestic issues, Andri and his deputy Hinrika (Ilmur Kristjansdottir) suddenly face a rare big-league emergency when a headless, limbless corpse surfaces in the bay shortly after a Danish ferry sweeps into port. Reasoning that the body was dumped from the ship, they struggle to keep the rowdy passengers on board while they search for clues, despite objections from a mysteriously obstructive captain (Bjarne Henriksen). When a dramatically convenient blizzard makes the snowbound town inaccessible to outsiders, including detectives flying in from the capital, the locals wake up to the shock realization that a killer walks among them.

This pilot episode pushes all the obvious buttons: sketching out key players, dangling red herrings, planting seeds for future conflicts and embryonic subplots. The formula is schematic, classical even. That said, Kormakur transcends Nordic Noir cliche with some uniquely Icelandic touches, from majestic Everest-style aerial shots of the icy volcanic landscape to the swelling, droning, unsettling score by local hero and former Academy Award nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything, Sicario). Judged on this persuasive opening pitch, Trapped feels like a keeper, superior small-screen comfort food for the dark winter nights ahead.

Production Company: RVK Studios

Cast: Olafur Darri Olafsson, Ilmur Kristjansdottir, Ingvar Sigurosson, Nina Dögg Filipusdottir, Bjarne Henriksen

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Producers: Magnus V. Sigurdsson, Baltasar Kormakur

Screenwriters: Sigurjon Kjartansson, Clive Bradley

Cinematographer: Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson

Editors: Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, Sigvaldi J. Karason

Production Designer: Atli Geir Gretarsson

Music: Johann Johannsson

Sales company: Dynamic Television


Rated 14A, 51 minutes