Nils Dickman (Skarsgard) is a snowplough driver in a remote Norwegian town. (And yes, his surname is considered as amusing in Norway as it would be in Britain, and for the same reason). At the start of the film, two things happen: Nils is named Citizen of the Year by his fellow townsfolk, and his son, Ingvar, dies of a drug overdose. Nils, his marriage unravelling, learns from Ingvar’s friend Finn (Santelmann) that his son was murdered by thugs employed by Greven (Hagen), a drug baron Finn had ripped off. The news sets Nils off on a mission of revenge, picking off members of Greven’s organisation. Greven, in turn, blames his henchmen’s deaths on a rival Serb firm and in reprisal kills the only son of their boss ‘Papa’ (Ganz). At which point, things escalate.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds very Nordic Noir, and to begin with it looks like that’s what we’re in for. But from the first moment the focus moves from Nils to Greven and his men, the tone shifts into one of dark and increasingly frenetic humour. It’s less Nordic Noir than Nordic Absurdist, a pitch-black, violent comedy of errors spiralling ever further out of control.
This is a difficult trick to pull off; that In Order Of Disappearance does so is due in no small part to Skarsgard’s performance. Nils is a quiet, stoical and above all pragmatic man: give him a problem and he’ll find something practical to do about it, but when it comes to dealing with emotions he’s completely out of his depth. There’s something anachronistic about him; in the scenes filmed in Oslo he looks out of place, like a throwback to another, more brutal time. It’s no surprise that he’s unable to prevent his wife’s inexorable withdrawal from him. He doesn’t know how to – but he can beat a drug dealer to death with brutal efficiency. It also makes him the perfect dead-pan foil to the escalating carnage around him, and to Greven’s ever more demented ragings. Skarsgard has the physical presence, the action-film track record and the acting chops to pull the role off, both on a dramatic and comic level.
In contrast, Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, chewing the scenery with gleeful abandon, is clearly having an absolute whale of a time as the loathsome Greven. The vegan gangster is a marvellously vile yet hilarious creation, a sneering amoral yuppie and bullying control freak who flies into wild tantrums whenever things fail to go his way, and casually bumping off his own men to further his plans. Bruno Ganz’s Papa, on the other hand, ruthless though he is, actually manages to be quite likeable, mainly because the old-fashioned patriarch has a moral code and sense of loyalty, however brutal – although he also benefits from the ever-reliable Ganz’s talent for humanising even the most malevolent characters. Both Papa’s bereavement and his response to it mirror Nils’, implying a kinship, however unwilling, between the two men.
The police are barely visible in In Order of Disappearance, and where they are the portrait isn’t a flattering one, variously depicting them as bored, apathetic, lazy and incompetent; the rest of the time they don’t even appear to exist. There aren’t any Sarah Lunds here: against the chilly, indifferent beauty of the Norwegian landscape – both rural and urban – the characters pursue their vendettas and settle their scores, untroubled by even cursory interference from the authorities. As is so often the case, Norway itself, rich in brooding atmosphere, is one of the film’s uncredited stars.
In summation, then, In Order of Disappearance is ridiculously entertaining. If you like your humour pitch-black and without sugar – which should accurately describe the majority of horror devotees – this is the perfect evening’s viewing for a cold Saturday night, when the wind’s blowing and the streets are thick with snow…
Directed by: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Sverre Pal Valheim Hagen, Bruno Ganz, Tobias Santelmann.
Running time: 116 mins
UK Release date: Out now
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