A visual trip into the in-depths of Icelandic strangeness.
NOTE: This is a review based on the first three episodes of Baltasar Kormákur's "Katla", airing on Netflix.
Baltasar Kormákur's latest venture, Katla, is a mesmerizing production taking place in Vik which is the southernmost village in Iceland and hosts one of the largest volcanos in the country, the titular Katla. Kormákur is the show's creator, director, and co-writer while Sigurjón Kjartansson, known for his involvement in popular Icelandic television series such as Trapped, The Press, and Réttur, is the co-creator. It should be noted that Lilja Sigurðardóttir, the acclaimed author of the "Reykjavik Noir" trilogy, is among the many screenwriters of the show and her talent and unique ability to concoct alluring mystery stories shines on screen this time. Katla transcends genre categorization as it combines elements from crime, mystery, sci-fi, supernatural and -perhaps- even horror fiction, proving that the value of a production lies not on following strict recipes but rather on the limitless creativity of the main crew. The show features an impressive cast of acclaimed Icelandic actors like Ingvar Sigurdsson, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Baltasar Breki Samper, Björn Thors, and Haraldur Stefansson. It's a majestic production with breathtaking cinematography and the main storyline is gripping enough to make you binge-watch all eight episodes in one or two sittings. The script is almost flawless and the credible dialogue as well as the slow-paced evolution of the plot is the best that I've witnessed in the recent Nordic TV productions.
The lives of the people in Vik are thrown into disarray as the Katla volcano erupts and the consequences for the locals are more than dire. The small community is shocked when a young woman appears out of nowhere, covered head-to-toe in ashes and suffering from memory loss. The woman claims that her name is Gunhild Ahlberg, a Swedish citizen who works at the local hotel but when the authorities try to verify her identity, they find out that Gunhild is living in Uppsala along with her son. Who is the woman in Vik's hospital? Why is she insisting that she is someone that she cannot possibly be? The questions multiply when the following day another young woman who disappeared a year ago and was presumed dead returns in the village also covered in black tephra. Her family is stunned to learn that Ása is still alive and her father, Þór, and sister, Gríma, try to make some sense of what happened to her during this last year. Ása has no recollection that would offer an explanation regarding her whereabouts at that time and along with her closest relatives, she will try to shed a light on the events that left a deep mark on her. Darri is a scientist who studies volcanos and his research will be disrupted when his son, who died several years ago, will reappear and approach him. How is that even possible? Is there some kind of supernatural intervention in the village of Vik? The creators pose many questions in the first three episodes that will hopefully get solid answers as the season reaches its climax.
As it is evident from the plot synopsis, Katla is the definition of the mystery story that expands and elongates through the masterful weaving of the captivating plot that unravels in a rather slow, though steady, tempo. The main protagonist in this show is the volcano, a mystical entity that seems to swallow human beings only to spit them back out, erasing their memories and changing them for life. The atmosphere is captivating and the dark colors dominate the screen adding to the overall enigmatic character and tone of the series. There are also various subplots that are connected to the main storyline and the links between them will certainly become clearer in the following episodes. All the performances are top-notch, though I would like to make a special mention to Ingvar Sigurdsson (Jar City, A White White Day) who is terrific in the role of Þór, and Björn Thors who is excellent in his portrayal of Darri's exasperation in the face of the impossible. But, above all, this show is a lesson on cinematography. It's the setting that first captivates the viewer and convinces him to continue watching. Vik is depicted as an obscure, cryptic place where anything can happen including the things that we deem beyond the bounds of possibility. The characters are forced to try to survive in a secluded community whose future is dubious due to the constant volcanic eruptions. Of course, there are many secrets untold among the local community and some of the character arcs in Katla seem to be quite fascinating.
Iceland keeps delivering outstanding television exports and after the brilliant Minister, Katla raises the stakes even more as it is definitely one of the best shows of the past few years internationally. Baltasar Kormákur is a cinematic genius and his movies have proved that he is capable of creating little masterpieces. His directing skills are extravagant and in this show he surpasses his own self by becoming involved in each and every aspect of this production. All the writers deserve a compliment for offering to the audiences such a high-quality series that stands out from the mass production of uninspired, unoriginal production that we've watched during the last one or two years. Katla will appeal to -almost- everyone as it is a cocktail of Sci-fi, crime, and mystery and its high production values makes it an unmissable watch. I read somewhere that there will be a second season, so we will have to brace ourselves for a long wait until its airing.