15 Great Nordic Thrillers That Are Worth Your Time

8. The Hypnotist (2012)


Fast-paced from the beginning, the Swedish film Hypnotisören, directed by Lasse Hallström, tells the tale of a shocking and violent family murder that Joona Linna (Tobias Zilliacus), a Finnish detective, has to solve with the help of a psychiatrist, Erik Maria Bark (Mikael Persbrandt). Faced with these murders and no clues, Bark will attempt to solve them by using hypnotism on the only survivor and witness, Josef, the family’s son, who is unconscious due to the terrible attack he has suffered. The unexpected kidnapping of Erik’s son and the discovery of a challenging letter that Josef mentions in an hypnosis session will help them to solve the case.

The parallel stories justify the different facts taking place during the plot. Distrust, frailness and passion bring this Scandinavian crime film to the edge. Both the sincerity of a traumatized adolescent and parental affection explain the case itself. The viewer’s deductions follow the same rhythm and pace as the discoveries by the research team.

Based on the book by Lars Kepler (2009) of the same name, The Hypnotist takes place in Stockholm, a cold, isolated place with depressing grey hospitals and common yet convoluted family stories. Such a place seems an ideal location to film Kepler’s adaptation. The most striking thing about this film is the exuberant visuals, as well as the cleverness of the writer in solving the mystery, present until the end of the film.


7. Jar City (2006)

Jar City (2006) movie

Erlendur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), a detective with a troubled life and a drug addict daughter, is investigating the genetic bond between the homicide of Holberg Jonsson and a 4-year-old girl’s death that took place 30 years earlier. They both conceal a gloomy secret that will gradually be revealed.

This whodunit-crime film has parallel stories that are worth exploring in order to know more about the characters’ background. Flat landscapes, never-ending highways and fog are in total cohesion with the mood of the film.

It is an adaptation of Tainted Blood (2002) by the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indriðason, directed by Baltasar Kormákur, making it a thought-provoking film worth watching.


6. Pioneer (2013)

Pioneer (2013)

Pioneer is a recent Norwegian psychological thriller directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg, who is also known for Insomnia.

Petter (Aksel Hennie) is part of a professional diving team that aims to descend 1,000 feet below sea level since they have discovered a massive oil and gas source in the North Sea. He is hung up on the project, and wants to reach the record for deepest dive arm in arm with his brother, Knut (André Eriksen). Everything goes as planned until an accident during a diving test changes the role of every member of the scuba diving team, formed by the Americans (with Wes Bentley) and the Norwegians.

The film puts stress on the main character’s feelings of mistrust and anxiety, sentiments that are emphasized by the undersea and submarine shots that exude claustrophobia. Certainly, Pioneer stands out with its original choice of setting.


5. Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008)

Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008)

A lack of economic resources leads Christopher (Baltasar Kormákur) to once again take up his former illegal job as an alcohol smuggler by hiding alcohol in a ship sailing from Reykjavik to Rotterdam. He unfairly involves his wife and children in his illegal activities, pulling them into his web of trouble.

Christopher is betrayed by his best friend Steingrimur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), a matter that brings to light the question of his friend’s trustworthiness.

The Icelandic production, directed by Óskar Jónasson, has a predictable yet happy ending. Once again, Hollywood felt the compulsion to create a remake that leaves much to be desired.


4. Insomnia (1997)

Insomnia (1997)

A Swedish inspector, Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård), with the aid of his partner Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal), begins an investigation into the death of a girl who had been found in the Norwegian city of Tromsø, the land of the midnight sun. Engström suffers from insomnia, a sleeping disorder caused by incessant light during the night and by the feeling of guilt due to an accident. He covers up information and manipulates evidence, which drives our inspector into madness.

The onlooker is all over the nitty-gritty details of the main character’s situation. However, there’s a constant attempt to help him cover up manslaughter, by sustaining his fake alibi.

Insomnia is without a doubt an offbeat piece of art by Erik Skjoldbjærg. There is a 2002 American adaptation by the director of Memento (Christopher Nolan) and with Al Pacino playing the role of the Swedish detective. However, the essence resides in the excellent cast of the Norwegian version.


3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nyqvist) is a divorced journalist who is temporarily fired from the magazine Millennium. He had published an article about political corruption which contained some unreliable information and for which he received a lot of criticism. Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) asks him to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece Harriet Vanger, a case the police decided to give up on. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a character whose difficult past is reflected by her physical appearance, is an investigator who will help the journalist to solve the case.

All the members of the Vanger family are suspected to be involved in Harriet’s disappearance. This keeps the viewer with an on-edge feeling and uncertainty until the end of the film.

Män som hatar kvinnor (literally: “the men who hate women”) is a film adaptation from the first volume of the trilogy Millennium by the acclaimed Swedish author Stieg Larsson. An American adaptation has also been made following the Swedish.


2. Headhunters (2011)

Headhunters (2011)

Based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø and directed by Morten Tyldum, a Norwegian filmmaker also known for his last film, The Imitation Game (2014), Headhunters is a crafty neo-noir thriller which leaves no one indifferent.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is an apparently wealthy man with a stunning wife and a lavish house. But he leads a double life: he claims to earn a living as a headhunter in the recruitment industry while in reality he supports his dissipated lifestyle by stealing paintings. But it is never enough for him. He wants to do something big. His wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), an art gallery owner, introduces Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to him. He becomes Brown’s ideal victim due to the fact that he owns a genuine Rubens. The two-faced headhunter plans the theft with his friend Ove: a project with an unpredictable and jaw-dropping denouement.

Although its ironic tone might initially make it seem like a comedy rather than a thriller, it possesses all the necessary ingredients to be classed in the gore extreme of the genre as it becomes unexpectedly perverse and sadistic. Details the viewer might take for granted are overturned in a jigsaw puzzle as the film moves forward. It is undoubtedly one of a kind in this contemporary cinematographic genre.


1. Submarino (2010)

Submarino (2010)

Thomas Vinterberg adapted the noir novel Submarino (2007) by the Danish writer Jonas T. Bengtsson. It is a virtually flawless raw drama from the start. With a miserable childhood that marks them for life, Nick (Jakob Cedergren) and his brother (Peter Plauborg) meet each other at their mother’s funeral after several years of having lost contact. Their future decisions will be influenced by their past life, as well as by the example that their heedless alcoholic mother gave them, and will follow the same life-devastating path.

During the film, the main characters try to help other people. Nick covers up a crime committed by an old friend and his brother tries to give his son a better life by dealing drugs. Both aims of the brothers will tear them apart.

Although it is not explained in the film, Vinterberg states that the title “refers to a torture method in which someone’s head is kept under water,” a metaphor of the main characters’ feelings. The director succeeds in creating a psychological and poignant film, with its great dose of stark reality and coldly aesthetic shots making it consistent and comprehensible.

Author Bio: Currently living and studying in Lyon (France), Laia is an Advertising and Public Relations student from Barcelona. Hoping to work as a script writer or as an art director, she often write short film scripts and watch series and films during her spare time. She will soon produce a short film from a script she wrote.