2017 in one go

One thing is guaranteed when making summaries of the year gone by: Sweden has not produced a horror film (again) and children are blessed with numerous genre productions, even if they don’t really realize it. Here’s a brief overview.

The most prevalent factors in Nordic genre cinema is that the overall output is small, unstable and sometimes difficult to keep track of for the casual film fan. Sometimes a year’s entire genre production from any of the Nordic countries may premiere silently on a secondary TV channel, on an obscure film festival, or it survived two weeks in the cinema before it went straight to DVD/Bluray with little fanfare. More commonly, low budget movies don’t even get released on DVD but is released on Youtube, Vimeo or streaming platforms you never heard of. There is a statistically significant chance that at least half the sci-fi and fantasy drama produced was aimed at children (if not more), which could mean that the year was peppered with relevant titles, except they were relevant for your kids and not served in the channels movie fans usually follow. This was the case for Sweden in 2017, but we’ll get back to that later. The reason is of course, as always, that the Nordic countries are small, funding is a constant problem and movies we produce up here are not necessarily a potential world success, given the language barrier, the unknown franchises and the tradition in many markets to release and promote American content first and foremost. Nordic producers, TV channels and funding bodies have been revolutionized the last 20 years, but there are still some “natural laws” that keep preventing the Nordics from becoming the new Italy or the new Japan in movie making.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak and as we shall see, both Sweden and Norway did well in 2017, albeit in different sectors. Denmark and Finland came in second, and Iceland did not even enter the competition.

Norway
For a few years in the early to mid 00s, there was a Norwegian horror wave to speak of. These days, those waters are ebbing but in spite of that, Norway produced no less than five horror films (if you count everything that possibly could fall in the category) and one major fantasy film with wide distribution in 2017. Any year with six theatrical genre entries is a good year, even though most of them were independently produced and thus not necessarily a sign of the health status of the established Norwegian film scene. Lyst (in cinemas in April 2017) was touted as one of the most violent Norwegian movies ever, but didn’t quite cut the mustard in these pages. The fall was packed with films; the critically acclaimed Thelma by Joachim Trier in September, the moody Valley of Shadows in October, and the king of the underground, Reinert Kiil’s Juleblod, a Christmas horror comedy, in November. The same month also offered the more subtly thrilling Haunted. Apart from Juleblod, the trend seems to have been less conventional horror movies – and low budget ones – with foundations in the human psyche.

Not since Journey to the Christmas Star in 2012 was a fantasy epic made in Norway but in 2017 it happened. Ash Lad in the Hall of the Mountain King (original title: Askeladden i Dovregubbens hall) is the first in a planned trilogy from the director of two previous genre successes, Cold Prey 3 (2010) and Ragnarok (2013). There is something about Norwegian producers being able to find sure-fire concepts rooted in Norway’s collective memory and heritage (Norway is a small country with its history and cultural references taught well to the residents), and this movie seemed to qualify easily. The story about the poor farmer son who saves a princess from a troll became the country’s second most watched theatrical movie last year, beaten only by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Depending on your definitions of fantasy films, you can add a 7th theatrical genre film to the list, as the fourth Twigson movie was launched in November. Ekspedisjon Knerten (“The Twigson Expedition”) is a children’s movie about a little boy and his talking stick figure. The film did OK and was the third most popular Norwegian movie in theatres in 2017, with better sales than international tentpoles such as Alien: Covenant and Justice League.

There could have been more, because the horror comedy Vidar the Vampire was finally released after having been planned since 2010. However, it has only been doing the festival round so far, with its general release yet to be scheduled. We’re getting back to Vidar soon.

All in all, in a year with 33 Norwegian theatrical films, 7 or 8 genre films is not a bad count.

Sweden
The region’s biggest country and supposedly an innovative country did not produce a single traditional adult horror film in 2017, at least not in the mainstream or in the theatrical segment. Why horror is so poorly regarded in Sweden could be the subject of its own, long essay but the fact of the matter is that virtually all of Sweden’s mainstream genre efforts last year were aimed at children. Even the one horror film that did make it to cinemas, Room 2013 (original title; Rum 213) was for the younger ones. Ok, good, nice – a scary film for kids. Fine. They need to be steered into horror before sports take them. But, this movie is an exception and has nothing to do with Sweden having a true horror scene. In stead, Sweden has a scene for horror, fantasy and sci-fi for children, which is something else. This resulted in the biggest genre production last year being Jakten på tidskristallen (“The hunt for the time crystal”), the pre-Christmas countdown drama on Swedish television (SVT) where three children saves the world in general and Christmas specifically. Nothing wrong with that, but what else? Again, SVT is where you have to look, not because they are a major producer of such content but because they happen to be the distributor of the animated post-apocalyptic comedy Moderna tider (“Modern times”). Designed in a Simpsons / South Park / Rick & Morty style, the 54 minute 9-part drama by Marcus Laving and Nils Mattsson was the only adult horror or sci-fi related production in a mainstream context last year. Was it met with hype, embraced by social media and hailed by critics? Nope.

If you are older than 13, you need to look for your Swedish entertainment elsewhere. Swedish very-low-budget amateur film makers actually released a few movies the last year. Hermit: Monster Killer premiered in a few local theatres, Sargad and Sensoria got out too, as well as Root of Darkness. We’ll try to get back to these, even if not even Swedes have heard of them.

Finland
Ever heard of the Moomins? They are characters in Finland’s most famous children’s tale franchise, written by Tove Jansson. In 1957 she published the book Trollvinter (“Troll winter”) and just before Christmas 2017 children in the Nordic region could go and see the old-school animated cinematic adaption, Muumien taikatalvi (Swedish title; Trollvinter i Mumindalen). It’s formally a Finnish-Polish production but the Swedes have a hand in it too, with Stellan Skarsgård being a producer as well as providing Swedish and English voices. As we have stated before, children’s movies can do very well, since tickets are not just sold to the core audience, but also to their parents, uncles, ants or grandparents. The only problem? The film is a re-cut and re-voiced version of a Polish film from the 1980s. This really IS the level of Nordic fantasy film, sometimes.

On the adult front, Finland has been gearing up a while now, with shares in a project called Nordic Genre Invason. This resulted in It came from the desert, a horror comedy which has yet to find its mainstream distribution but did well at festivals across the world last year. Two short films should be mentioned: Emil Sallinen directed the 9 minute sci-fi Might (financed by national broadcaster YLE), and Joonas Allonen and Antti Laakso directed the H.P. Lovecraft inspired 30 minute horror Sound from the Deep.

That’s about it from Finland. No new widely released mainstream theatrical films at all – unless you count the Moomin movie from the 80s, then.

Denmark
Of 21 movies listed by kino.dk as premiering in 2017 in cinemas (including documentaries), only one qualifies. Fortunately, it was something as rare as a post-apocalyptic drama. That genre is not unheard of in Scandinavia, but it’s still a low frequence genre, in spite of its hallmarks being perfect for low budget film makers; find a trashy place or abandoned building, some old clothes and an axe, and off you go. QEDA is set in 2095 when the world is ravaged by ecological disaster. Oceans have risen and all natural freshwater is gone. Fang Rung has undergone molecular fission in order to send his other half, code name Gordon Thomas, back in time to the year 2017. Denmark also offered a few children’s fantasy dramas in the form of the feature film Julemandens datter (“Santa Claus’es daughter”), where a 12 year old girls goes to Santa school, and a couple of TV calendars, in the typical Scandinavian “we don’t produce fantasy stuff except for children” way.

Iceland
As usual, Iceland did not produce any genre content last year, but can you really blame them? With a population of less than 340.000, both audiences and film institutions may have other things on their to-do list.

2017 was not the best year ever in the Nordic region, but it was a good year for Norway. Hopefully, the rest of the region will catch up in 2018 with Iron Sky 2 from Finland, two horror movies in Denmark and possibly Operation Ragnarök (previously known as Zon 261) in Sweden. Norway? They’ll keep up the pace with both a big mythology based movie and a disaster flick. Follow these pages!

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