When one thinks of Scandinavia, several images may spring to mind; ancient Vikings, quaint fishing villages, perplexing furniture megastores. Over the last few years however, a new element has arisen to, at least partially, define that most northern region of our planet: crime fiction. For some reason, perhaps it’s the solitude of being shut inside on long winter nights, countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are churning out dark, gripping crime films.
Though some of these films make their way to the United States, the few that become even relatively popular are usually snatched up for American remake. The originals are often so revered, however, that those responsible for their creation will be given opportunities to cross over into making films in America. Case in point, this week sees the theatrical release of Dead Man Down, starring Noomi Rapace and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Need a refresher course on these two? Want to delve into more outstanding Scandinavian crime films? Here are few we would highly recommend:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Probably the most well known of the Scandinavian crime films, and one that was largely responsible for the resurgence of this strange niche is Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This bleak mystery follows a journalist and a hacker as they probe the years-prior disappearance of a young woman, uncovering many shadowy secrets about her family along the way. The thing that makes the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so compelling is that the journey to the truth is every bit as drenched in shock and horror as is the final reveal. Noomi Rapace first played the cybergoth badass Lisbeth Salander in Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel prior to Rooney Mara’s interpretation in the David Fincher remake. Dead Man Downtherefore represents a very intriguing reunion. The entire "Millennium Trilogy" is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Not only a standout of this particular genre, but quite possibly one of the best films of 2011, Norway’s Headhunters is a crowd-pleasing, spiraling crime farce. Based on a novel by Jo Nesbo, the film follows a corporate headhunter who uses his interviews to find new marks for his nightly activity: stealing valuable works of art. What’s fascinating about Headhunters is how much empathy we as an audience are willing to lend to, by all rights, a despicable human being. There is a natural sort of dark comedy in how completely in over his head Roger gets, and how he has to claw his way out. The film also boasts some tremendously snappy editing that keeps the tension brewing at all times. Headhunters is currently streaming on Netflix. Game of Thronesfans might recognize costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the dastardly Jaime Lannister from the HBO series.
Like Headhunters, Norway’s Jackpot is also based on a novel by Jo Nesbo. It centers on a blue-collar schlub named Oscar who makes the mistake of making a large sports wager with some of his less reputable coworkers…the bigger mistake, as it turns out, was winning the bet. Like the art-stealing protagonist of Headhunters, all the criminals in Jackpot quickly realize they are operating beyond their capacity for underhandedness, allowing for the construction of a comedy of errors. The action sequences in Jackpotare surprisingly just as well crafted as is the humor, and the ever-shifting group dynamic is outlandishly entertaining. The playful chronology of the piece allows for the ending to appear less as a twist and more as the inevitable, but thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
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Dutch crime comedy Plan C once again plays upon the theme of a hapless amoral protagonist who dabbles in full-scale criminality, but ultimately ends up biting off far more than he can chew. In Plan C, that antihero is a gambling-addicted police detective who hires two crooks to knock over an illegal casino. Though his motives are sympathetic enough, trying to pay off the Chinese mob threatening his family, it is really the two oddball thieves that carry the movie and, in some instances, prove more amiable than the detective. What Plan C does possibly better than any of the other movies on this list is point out the absurdity of the notion of a foolproof criminal scheme. The disastrous chain of events in the hotel room near the end is sterling evidence of the existence of Murphy’s Law in the underworld.
Just Another Love Story
Ole Bornedal’s Danish crime drama Just Another Love Story actually seems somewhat aware of its region’s own noir legacy. At one point, a character quips, “beautiful women and a mystery…isn’t that how all film noirs begin?” The film centers on a police photographer who inadvertently causes an automobile accident that sends a young woman into a coma. While checking on her, the woman’s family mistakes him for her boyfriend and he can’t bear to make their lives worse by admitting the truth, especially after she wakes with no memory. This movie is aptly named, as there is something enthrallingly romantic in our hero’s task. His sincere wish to restore the woman’s memory is heartbreaking, and he begins to become lost in the world he has constructed for her. As the truth of the woman’s story prior to the crash begin to surface, however, it’s clear that his good intentions will potentially doom him. Bornedal made his own leap to American films when he directed last year’s Jewish horror film The Possession.
[Photo Credit: Knut Koivisto/Yellow Bird Films]
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Meet the Dibbuk box. It's not your typical box. For one thing, it's not really a box. It's more of a wine cabinet. Also, it's haunted by a demon called a dibbuk, which, according to Jewish folklore, is a malevolent spirit of a dead soul that possesses multiple bodies to achieve oft-malicious goals. So, again, it's not really a box.
It's also a movie star, featured at the center of the upcoming horror film The Possession, which hits theaters on August 31. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick play the parents of a little girl who falls victim to the spirit after picking up the "box" at the world's worst yard sale. Now, possessed little girls are one thing — we've seen them everywhere from The Exorcist to Little Miss Sunshine — but the nifty (or perhaps terrifying) thing about The Possession is that this little Dibbuk box is actually accompanied by a horrifying story of ambiguous truth.
As does every object-related tale of terror, the story begins on eBay. In the not-too-distant past, a furniture store owner put a small wooden cabinet up for auction.
According to the box's website, the auction listing included the story of how the seller, Kevin Mannis, obtained the dibbuk box. Mannis purchased the box in September 2001 in a Portland estate sale of a Polish Holocaust survivor, who immigrated to America by way of Spain (where she picked up the box). At the estate sale, the woman's granddaughter, upon noticing that Mannis had picked up the so-called "dibbuk box," explained how her grandmother insisted that the box never be opened.
Mannis brought the cabinet back to his small furniture store, where he stowed it in the basement and left, leaving a young sales clerk in charge. About a half hour later, the saleswoman called: She was absolutely hysterical and screaming that someone was in my workshop breaking glass and swearing. Furthermore, the intruder had locked the iron security gates and the emergency exit and she couldn't get out. As I told her to call the police, my cell phone battery went dead. I hit speeds of 100 mph getting back to the shop. When I arrived, I found the gates locked. I went inside and found my employee on the floor in a corner of my office sobbing hysterically. I ran to the basement and went downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, I was hit by an overpowering unmistakable odor of cat urine (there had never been any animals kept or found in my shop). The lights didn't work. As I investigated, I found that the reason the lights didn't work also explained the sounds of glass breaking. All of the light bulbs in the basement were broken. All nine incandescent bulbs had been broken in their sockets, and 10 four-foot fluorescent tubes were lying shattered on the floor. I did not find an intruder, however. I should also add that there was only one entrance to the basement. It would have been impossible for anyone to leave without meeting me head-on. I went back up to speak with my salesperson, but she had left.
She never returned to work (after having been with me for two years). She refuses to discuss the incident to this day. I never thought of relating the events of that day to anything having to do with the cabinet.
Not thinking about the box, Mannis decided to give the cabinet to his mother for her birthday:
On October 31, 2001, my mother came to my shop. We were going to have lunch together, but before we were going to leave, I gave her the wine cabinet. She seemed to like it. While she examined it, I went to make a phone call. I hadn't been out of sight more than 5 minutes when one of my employees came running into my office saying that something was wrong with my mom. When I went back to see what the matter was, I found my mom sitting in a chair beside the cabinet. Her face had no expression, but tears were streaming down her cheeks. No matter how I tried to get her to respond, she would not. She could not. It turns out that my mother had suffered a stroke.
Later, Mannis gave the box to his sister, brother and girlfriend, all three of whom returned it to him. He sold it to an older couple, who gave it back days later. Reluctantly, he took the box home, only to realize that he began having a recurring nightmare involving "the most gruesome, demonic-looking Hag that I have ever seen." A month later, Mannis' sister and brother came over and described their same dream, down to every detail. Suddenly, they all realized the shared link: the box.
Since deciding that the blame was on the box, Mannis claimed to see "shadow things" at random; smoke alarms going off with no fire; burnt out lightbulbs; his hair falling out; the stench of cat urine lurking in the air. It led to him listing the box on eBay, where it was purchased by bidder "agetron," who then sold it again. The box shifted ownership through a number of other transactions before it eventually reached Iosif Nietzke, a college student from Minnesota… who also put it back up for auction.
An L.A. Times article describes the lot: "Inside were two locks of hair, one granite slab, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick and, allegedly, one "dibbuk," a kind of spirit with origins in Yiddish folklore. According to the report, Nietzke's listing described the antique as a "'haunted Jewish wine cabinet box' that had plagued several owners with rotten luck and a spate of bizarre paranormal stunts."
The cabinet then went to a museum curator named Jason Haxton, who went on to write a book chronicling his experience with the box and develop the cabinet's "official" website. In 2004, Haxton was approached by a lawyer representing horror movie legend Sam Raimi, who wanted to produce a film version about the dibbuk box. Haxton, who is still the box's current owner, allegedly offered to give the box to Raimi and his team, but they turned him down. "They were too afraid of having the actual box," Haxton told a reporter in August. "Nobody wanted to house it."
Stan Wertlieb, one of the film's producers, corroborated the claim: "At our first Dibbuk Box production meeting, Sam Raimi said it would be best to have the actual box in our possession while we worked on the movie. The question was raised about who would be the caretaker for the box while it was here. In a room of ten, nobody would volunteer, each using a different excuse to avoid exposure to the box's curse." Ole Bornedal, the director of The Possession, told Entertainment Weekly: "Some really weird things happened. I've never stood underneath a neon light before that wasn't lit, that all of a sudden exploded. The worst thing was, five days after we wrapped the movie, all the props burned. This storage house in Vancouver burned down to the ground, and the fire department does not know the cause."Truth? Fiction? Either way, the nature of the twisted tale is utterly fascinating, whether or not you believe that dibbuks go bump in the night.The Possession opens in theaters on August 31.
Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcSnetiker
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate]
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There are few names within the horror circles that have managed to resonate beyond their own genre fandom and achieve widespread appeal. Thanks to his trilogy of cinematic Spider-Man adaptations a few years ago, Sam Raimi can proudly cast his name among them. However, he is sacrosanct to his legions of fans because his roots will forever be firmly planted in delightfully cursed soil. It all started with a mico-budget, but wildly imaginative campfire story called The Evil Dead; the progenitor of every cabin in the woods movie to follow (including this year’s The Cabin in the Woods). What Raimi and his team were able to achieve in 1981 would drastically alter the face of fright for years to come.
There are those who would argue that Raimi’s few and far-between ventures into horror since the conclusion of The Evil Dead trilogy means that he is no longer a force within the genre. This is a fallacy. The fact is, like some rapidly decaying zombie, Raimi has managed to leave little traces of himself all over horror to genre — it’s just that the main hat he now wears is that of a producer. This week he serves in that capacity on The Possession. The film, with the remarkably self-evident central conceit, was directed by Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal.
This collaboration will seem far more fitting momentarily. Around 2004, Raimi launched his production company Ghost House Pictures. Ghost House had a hand in the production of one of the most successful remakes of the J-horror craze: The Grudge. The Americanized Grudge, formerly called Ju-on, starred Sarah Michelle Gellar and was directed by Takashi Shimizu who also helmed the original version. Ghost House also produced the big screen adaptation of the Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith graphic novel 30 Days of Night, which centered on a pack of vampires establishing feeding grounds in Alaska. They can also list Boogeyman, The Grudge 2, and The Messengers among their productions.
Equally impressive as their production lineup was Ghost House’s distribution catalog. Through their Ghosthouse Underground wing, Raimi’s company has made available to horrorphiles outstanding independent and foreign genre titles. The British horror film, The Children, is a terrifying tale of little ones gone bad that is absolutely fantastic. They also distributed Gregg Bishop’s sweet and savage teen horror comedy Dance of the Dead as well as Peter A. Dowling’s bachelor-party-gone-wrong nightmare Stag Night.
Most appropriately however in this regard, Ghosthouse Underground were the distribution company for Ole Bornedal’s breakout film The Substitute. The Substitute is a remarkable little horror film that plays to our collective childhood fear of the mean old crones who would fill in when our regular teachers were out sick. While Mrs. Harms is hardly a crone, she is the scariest substitute any kid could imagine. While we may have joked as kids that our substitute teachers were aliens, the kids in Mrs. Harms’ class may have a legitimate case. The Substitute artfully balances dark comedy and playfully sinister horror beats. It wowed Fantastic Fest audiences in 2008 and is now primed for a remake with which Raimi is rumored to be involved.
So yes, it’s not surprising that Sam Raimi is producing Ole Bornedal’s The Possession. He’s recognized Bornedal’s talent for years, as evidence by Ghousthouse Undergrounds’ distribution of The Substitute. Recognizing rising horror filmmaker talent is precisely the lasting impact Raimi has had on this genre for which he is so revered. Though as a director, Raimi is moving into the realm of big-budget fantasy with Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful, he remains a faithful horror producer. Among his upcoming production endeavors are remakes of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and, wouldn’t you know it, The Evil Dead, the movie that made him a legend in his industry.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures, Lionsgate]
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Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat and the Hat — great bedtime stories that put a kid to sleep in no time. Psalm 91 read in a deep, foreboding whisper? Slightly more terrifying.
In the new film The Possession, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Clyde, who discovers that his daughter, Em, is the victim of otherworldly forces. Knowing full well that Dr. Seuss doesn't have the cure for this particular ailment, Clyde sits down with his demonic child to read her a few passages of sacred text. As you'll see in Hollywood.com's exclusive clip from the film, Em doesn't take so kindly to the words of God.
The Possession, directed by Ole Bornedal, produced by horror maestro Sam Raimi, and starring Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, and Madison Davenport, hits theaters Aug. 31. Check out the first look scene below!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate]
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