And what to watch instead
Scandinavia is a weird and brutal land. Its people host the air guitar world championships, eat blood soup, and put out their forest fires with bombs. Its chilly shores have spewed forth homicidal metal musicians, the blood eagle (a horrifying execution method that’s basically the Viking version of Operation), kraken, trolls, whatever Lars von Trier is, and the vengeful holiday bogeyman Krampus. And we’ve all seen Midsommar!
Scandinavians are also statistically the cheeriest people on the globe, with a hardy sense of humor as dark as a fjord lake in polar winter. My expectations were thusly high when I boarded Bloodride, a new Norwegian horror series on Netflix that promises to carry its victims to the intersection of terror and gallows humor. But it dumped me at an off-brand Hot Topic instead.
The six-episode anthology follows a mysterious bus with several silent, scowling passengers heading toward what I hoped would be some context. It strings 30-minute episodes among sinister shots of the foggy ride for reasons that it still hasn’t revealed by the end of Season 1, with the driver squinting theatrically in the rearview mirror as if to say, “Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya!”
I watched the first episode in which a family moves to the country and discovers a sinister secret about the townsfolk. Heh. Okay, a clever retooling of Norse mythology with an artful twist. Then I watched the next one. Hm. This guy gets released from a psych ward and goes to a cabin in the woods and I guessed the ending five minutes in. Then one where exactly what you think is haunting a schoolhouse. Hurgh. A feeling was sneaking up on me, like when people eat fries with mayo or put actual ham on a hamburger: it’s almost right…but not quite, and therefore totally wrong.
Yes, Bloodride has the edgy social ambitions of Black Mirror and the serial range to explore different horror sub-genres, but they’re executed with the chintzy camp of Tales from the Crypt. Plot twists are bungling and binary (She was dead the whole time! He was alive the whole time! The narrator is really the insane one! The protagonist is actually bad!), mimicking subtler shows like American Horror Story with all the cringey try-hard of a German Levi’s ad. A terrible horrible no-good rap-rock song is the unironic centerpiece of one story and frankly, I expect more from the land of death metal. A laptop grows a poorly CGI’d mouth like the Langoliers and its victim says the actual line “My Mac ate my hand.”
The half-hour Bloodride story arcs cram in character exposition, personal conflict and social themes, leaving little psychological space for what is supposed to be the point: the psychological buildup of fear. Like IKEA, Bloodride wants to ship us random chunks of knock-off terror tropes and leave it to us to assemble them. Teen Party in the Woods, Reality Isn’t Real, Haunted School w/Menacing Caretaker, Psych Patient, Sinister Technology: all the standard, chimp-clappy pieces are there, but how they fit together coherently gets lost in translation. No word on where this bus is heading — but this is my stop.
Scandinavian horror doesn’t need to take a page from anyone’s grimoire but its own: grisly folktales and ancient monsters that would make Vincent Price cower. In that spirit, here are a few bone-chilling offerings from the Nordic vaults:
Haxan (Sweden/Denmark): 1922 documentary-style silent film about witches
Sauna (Norway): graphic PTSD fever dream about vengeful spirits set in the 16th century
When Animals Dream (Denmark): body/teen horror as a girl develops frightening new features
Vampyr (Denmark): classic blood-sucking origin cinema; film school teachers love to teach it
Let the Right One In (Sweden): bittersweet psychological thriller about child vampires
What We Become (Denmark): an artful indie zombie movie with hints of The Walking Dead
Hour of the Wolf (Sweden): Ingmar Bergman’s thriller about a couple on a remote island who believe a cult is terrorizing them
Nightwatch (Denmark): a weirdo morgue nightwatchman becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders
Forbrydelsen (Denmark, series): remade in the US as The Killing, this 3-season Danish drama follows the dark investigation of a girl’s murder