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Sleek Icelandic Thriller: Cold Trail

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Sleek Icelandic Thriller: Cold Trail

Review by Egill M. Arnarsson, photo and trailer courtesy of Saga Film.

If you head down to the local video shop in search for a mystical Icelandic thriller, Köld Slód (English title: Cold Trail) is probably the only film you would bring back. If you still own a VCR there might be a copy of a brutal 80s Viking film somewhere in that genre. Judging by the cover, Köld Slód promises stylized action, mystery, surprise, probably passion and the usual disappointment of Icelandic film acting.

The idea to make a thriller set in Iceland’s snowy highlands got director Björn B. Björnsson a generous amount of funding to make a high budget film (by Icelandic standards) with a surprisingly good production value. Because there have not been many Icelandic thrillers made in the past, most of the cast and crew were squirming with excitement to begin work on this film. They voyaged with full gear to a remote hydro plant in northern Iceland where most of it was shot.

Set in modern times, Köld Slód sheds a realistic light on the harsh conditions of Iceland’s countryside, the black meat market, the busyness of the modern city and its scandals, which previous films have failed to do. The script touches upon all the basic rules of a “safe” thriller—like being set in a remote location and having few characters—but the story also has several twists. Unfortunately, the film includes some of the Icelandic film traditions, the indispensable nude scene, a repressed ghost and slaughtered animals.

Köld Slód tells the story of Baldur (Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson), a sly journalist who is investigating the death of his biological father. To do so, Baldur becomes a security guard at the hydro plant where the incident occurred. There he meets Freyja (Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir), a farmer tending to her sick mother and the four workers of the plant.

Some scenes demonstrate typical Icelandic B-movie acting and none of the cast gives a convincing performance. The “bad guy” is dull and unconvincing, and the characters do not evolve much, even during extraordinary events. Fortunately, the characters were not unnecessarily complex, only simple actions and conversations were enough to reveal their personalities and backstories, something even the weakest actor could handle. The strongest element of the film is that the tempo never drops, keeping the excitement enriched with claustrophobic settings and some nice-looking blizzards.

Köld Slód delivers a fine balance between down-to-earth characters and beautiful scenery without the common exaggerations like endless long shots of Iceland’s breathtaking landscape (e.g. as seen in Children of Nature and Cold Fever).

However, the camera shakes constantly, and awkwardly, throughout the film, leaving little contrast between drama and action scenes. This kind of cinematography was totally unnecessary at times and ruined some shots that could have been great. Cinematographer Vídir Sigurdsson obviously thought the use of a tripod or a dolly crane was a waste of time.

The most obvious visual stunt is the gray-blue tone of the film, generously applied during post-production color correction. It creates a unique look, wrapping the story tighter together, but some scenes are way over-lit. This kind of art direction is rarely seen in Icelandic cinema, making it one of the most talked-about elements of the film. Not surprisingly, Köld Slód won the Edda (the Icelandic Oscars) for Artistic Direction in 2006.

The score, written by Veigar Margeirsson, blends in with all the other elements quite nicely. Still, its unoriginality fails to make it memorable. The editing gave the film the haunting pace it needed. It was smooth and added a professional texture to the most violent scenes.

Köld Slód is Björnsson’s first full-length feature and writer Kristinn Thórdarson’s first film script. Together they make a brave attempt to stir the Icelandic film scene with promising results, for the film has been selected to compete for the grand prize at the 2008 Nordic Film Festival in France in March.

It is great to finally have a sleek thriller added to the Icelandic film pile, a genre desperately missing. This film is bound to shake things up locally and is undoubtedly compatible with Scandinavian, and low-budget European films. Despite poor acting and common clichés, the film is worth seeing.

Köld Slód has been reseased on DVD with English subtitles. Click here to watch the trailer.

EMA – [email protected]

Egill M. Arnarsson graduated with distinction from the Fine Arts Department of the Vocational School in Akureyri (VMA) in 2004. In 2005, he studied Film and Television at the University of Wales and is now enrolled to the Reykjavík School of Multimedia from which he will graduate in spring 2008. He is an amateur filmmaker and graphic designer; click here to look at a short film by Arnarsson.

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