Saturday, 22 August 2015

Jordskott (2015)

Imagine a TV show that combines the format of the Nordic crime serial with The X-Files. Well, you'd end up with something very like Jordskott, a co-production between Sweden's STV and ITV (a British commercial broadcaster and long-time rival to the BBC). Jordskott was shown in Britain this summer. At the time of writing it's not clear if a second serial will be commissioned, but on the strength of the first one it should be.

Into the Woods...

The story has all the ingredients fans of the Danish/Swedish crime genre go for - secrets, conspiracies, detectives of conflicting dispositions, a cast of civilians ranging from the stiffly orthodox to the total misfit, and a fair amount of violence, much of it committed in the shadows. What creator Henrik Björn has added to the mix is the paranormal, and I think he got the proportions more or less right - no mean feat over ten hour-long episodes.

The story begins with detective Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) facing down a man who's about to kill his estranged wife in front of their small daughter. Eva is shot, but survives thanks to a bulletproof vest. The scene might seem gratuitous but, as with many incidents, it becomes relevant later. Eva then has to return to her home town in wilds of northern Sweden to attend her father's funeral and settle his affairs. When she arrives she discovers that a child has vanished without trace - just as Eva's daughter Josefine did seven years earlier. Suddenly Josefine reappears, not just older but strangely transformed. The girl is suffering from a mysterious ailment caused by a parasite. The final scene of the first episode makes it clear that this is no ordinary infection, and we're into the weird zone.

Unconventional Medicine

Over the next nine hours, as you'd expect, things get very strange and quite convoluted, but not to ludicrous degrees. The Thörnblads have been local magnates in the town of Silverhöjd ('Silver Heights') for centuries. It's a company town, and the company is Thörnblad Cellulosa, a timber felling and processing firm. It soon emerges that there's a connection between plans to develop the forest area the town is named after and the kidnapping. What's more, the company board have hired a dangerous individual to deal with the problem independently of the police.

Unconventional Autopsy
Among the ingredients assembled here is a lot of traditional horror imagery. Eva's ancestral home is the nearest thing rural Sweden could have to a Gothic mansion, complete with secret passages and tunnels. But the real driving force is the same fascination with Nordic folklore that informs the excellent film Thale. It may be difficult for us Brits to take nature spirits (such as forest fairies and undines) seriously, but it can pay dividends. And, for me at least, fitting the creatures of Nordic mythology into the modern world requires less effort than suspending my disbelief in Batman and his ilk.

I mentioned The X-Files earlier because this show pays tribute to that series in several ways. There's a scene at a sewage plant that will ring bells, along with a rather messy autopsy, and the discovery of an odd anatomical feature that murder victims have in common. Another influence may be the BBC classic paranormal thriller Edge of Darkness, for reasons I can't give away without dropping a spoiler bomb. But the central idea, of going into the green world of the forest and being transformed, is even older than television.

There are a few flaws. Inevitably, given the size of the cast, some characters are stereotypes, but at least they are well-played. And Jordskott might be a few episodes too long for some viewers. Fans of the original Doctor Who will recognise a slight case of 'six episode syndrome', where a serial concept that sags a bit has to be padded by the introduction of a new menace. But at least the new ingredient here - a dangerous adolescent played by the splendidly-named Happy Jankell - is genuinely interesting rather than just gimmicky.

Swedish Emo
Overall, I managed to watch Jordskott in full over a couple of days, and my attention rarely wandered. It was refreshing to see a supernatural tale played straight and given the Nordic thriller treatment. There are a few touches of the deadpan humour that fans of The Killing and The Bridge will recognise. Where else can you see a woman sit down for a pee, only to discover a carnivorous water sprite in the bath? (A rhetorical question.)

So, all in all, this is one to watch out for, if you have the stamina for a long, involved viewing session. Just don't go into the woods alone afterwards.


MALALE said...

thanks for this recommendation, me and wife are watching. Slowly. I think we are about to watch episode 7 tonight.

Unconventional autopsy, yes!

And the trees, wow!

valdemar said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it! Let's hope they make a second series.

MALALE said...

last episode yesterday watched and I believe I cried!

there was something "fortitude" but I stopped watching that, didn't seem to come together.

anything similar to this "Jordskott" I wonder?

I may blog or tweet concerning this and link to your post here if ok. Not now, some time later.

When least expected.

valdemar said...

The only thing similar to Jordskott is the film 'Thale', which I've mentioned before. But I don't know much about Scandinavian horror, so maybe there are some other series out there.