Fantastic Fest: In ‘Hellfjord,’ The Fjords Are Not What They Seem

By  · Published on September 27th, 2012

by Michael Treveloni

In a day where shows are made, remade, and rehashed to remade again so that they become a Möbius strip of canned tedium that screams into a void paying as much attention to it as it does a mosquito bite, to see something pass by on its own set of legs is a mind-numbing pleasure. And what a set of gams Hellfjord has on it. From the very beginning, it wastes no time in piquing interest, it has a sale to make and wants to make sure everyone buys in.

Hellfjord starts with Salmander (Zahid Ali) getting transferred from his position in the Oslo police force. He is a lightning rod of a PR nightmare due to actions involving his horse, Gunnar, at the Independence Day parade, actions that left many people traumatized. Unable to can him instantly due to technicalities, the department’s next best option is to ship him far, far away to allow things to cool down. The location settled on is way up north in the tiny town of Hellfjord (where 100% of the population smokes, the average age is 67, and 60% of the town is employed at the Hellfish processing factory). Begrudgingly, Salmander makes the trek, confident he can polish his name and be welcomed home if he does a good enough job as sheriff of a no-horse town. He’s greeted by Kobba (Stig Frode Henriksen), the acting sheriff, and together they make their way to the Hellfjord.

Cue up the Twin Peaks-ish Angelo Badalamenti music.

On a ferry ride to Hellfjord, Kobba throws a goat head into the water to appease the town’s sea serpent. For Salmander, this is the one of the many signs that his post will be less than ordinary. He arrives as a celebrity (the tale of Gunnar made it to the local press) and sets about letting the residents know that he is the new gun in town. Unfortunately for him, Hellfjord is a bit of a sleepy town. Speed enforcement is tough when tractors and bikes are the main modes of transportation. For a a place where the doctor, mechanic, tattoo artist and gynecologist are all the same person, it’s not too big on crime, though, something is fishy. The Hellfish fish processing plant to be exact, run by the only Swede in town, Bosse Nova. He is responsible for much of Hellfjord’s income and is a charismatic figurehead on a ship of weird; jovially enjoying vodka at the local strip club/mud wrestling pit/family restaurant. He wants to be good friends with Salmander, something the sheriff is wary of.

One night Salmander gets a call from a stranger who imparts that Hellfjord has some dark secrets. Mid-call the stranger is murdered, putting Salmander on the biggest case the town has ever seen. Thrust into the spotlight, Salmander pools his resources and assembles a team to help in his investigation. Nabbing local reporter Johanne (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Kobba and Riina (Kobba’s mail order Finnish wife who is handy with practical matters. And fighting.) they work the case over, discovering it is bigger than any of them ever imagined

The show spins a yarn about a man out of his element, on a quest for redemption. While it may sound like worn territory, it is actually far from it. Sure, the main character is a fish out of water, but he’s one that is so fun to watch that that trope is used less as a crutch and more as a spice to season the episodes. The show’s creators describe Hellfjord as Hot Fuzz meets Twin Peaks, and they couldn’t be more right. But to leave it at that comparison does the show no service. It is built on some very clever ideas and moves effortlessly and giddily around the world created. Nothing is out of place, regardless of how outlandish and eccentric it may be, everything works wonderfully. It is a confident premise at work, and one that is a lot of fun to be immersed in, like an Odd Nerdrum painting come to life (only with more chuckles). Then the truth sets in: season two isn’t even made yet and can’t get here soon enough.

The Upside: Fantastically realized, it is a mash-up of comedy and mystery evenly balanced so that it never gets tired.

The Downside: Some offensive and shocking content will keep some at bay.

On the Side: The show was created by a who’s who of Norwegian talents, including Tommy Wirkola (director of Dead Snow), Patrik Syversen (co-writer and director of You Said What), and Roar Uthaug (director of Cold Prey).

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