False Trail (Jägarna 2)

Sweden (2011) Dir. Kjell Sundvall

In the rural village of Norrland a group of hunters are out on their latest organised hunt when a young girl, Elin (Ellenor Lindgren), is seen running through the woods, bloodied and beaten. Soon after she is reported missing but evidence suggest she was shot during the hunt. Local police officer Torsten (Peter Stormare) immediately pinpoints resident thug Jari Lipponen (Eero Milonoff) as the prime suspect due to circumstantial evidence of his presence at the scene of the crime.

Jari protests his innocence and with him and Torsten having some personal history, his objectivity is called into question. So Erik Bäckström (Rolf Lassgård) is called in from Stockholm to lead the case, himself a former resident of Norrland with some grim memories of the place.

This is actually a sequel although the English title doesn’t give any hints this while the original Swedish title is a dead give away. False Trail is set fifteen years after the first film, 1996’s Jägarna (in English The Hunters), and while some of the events from that film are referenced here – specifically concerning Erik’s late brother – this film can be viewed as a standalone outing with little worries of being left out of the loop.

For many English viewers the main appeal of this film will be to see the hulking Rolf Lassgård in action, having enjoyed his work on TV in his roles as Wallander and Sebastian Bergman. Unfortunately we are denied seeing Lassgård fly too far from his apparent comfort zone as his role as Erik Bäckström isn’t that far removed from his aforementioned TV roles.

This means we might as well be watching a glossy version of Wallander when viewing this film but at least we know that golf old Rolf won’t let us down as the flawed but dogged detective with the demeanour of a grizzly bear with a sore head who puts his stamp on every investigation like a ship dropping anchor (an interview in the extras shows his softer friendlier side, revealing he played Edna Turnblad in the Swedish stage production of Hairspray!!).

As the title suggests, the path to finding the culprit isn’t as clear as we are first lead to believe. With a number of potential murderers among the many gunmen on the hunt – of which Torsten and his stepson Peter (Kim Tjernström) were among that number – it could have been a simple accident. However Jari’s presence at the scene of the shooting, along with the fact he tried to steal Elin’s car and gave his wife Elin’s handbag, puts him squarely in the spotlight as the prime suspect. Jari, though, is adamant that he saw the killer in the woods but was too stoned to recognise him.

Erik believes him which enrages Toresten, who still resents the fact Jari was never charged with attacking him many years ago. As Erik continues the investigation the facts become muddied as evidence pointing to the real killer is conveniently tampered with while the plot to frame Jari continues.

Some may argue that the killer is revealed too early but in fact initial suspicions are never fully confirmed until much later, such is the depth of the subterfuge and malfeasance involved in covering the crime that the finger of accusation points at a number of different people along the way.

And our culprit is so conniving and unwavering in his duplicity that he will screw over anyone and everyone to keep his culpability hidden that it seems he will get away with it right up until the end, creating a frustrating sense of tension for the viewer in the thrilling and taut final act.

The writers, Björn Carlström and Stefan Thunberg, have been well schooled in the art of the sprawling crime story, the latter having written for the Wallander TV series (with Krister Henriksson not Rolf Lassgård), to deliver the kind of multi-layered Nordic Noir thriller we’ve all become accustomed to from our Scandinavian neighbours.

This may lead some viewers to feel like they’ve seen it all before but, as the saying goes “it’s not what you do, it’s they way that you do it” and even if this feels familiar one cannot deny that your attention is fixed on the screen and you are fully invested in the story until the end credits run.

As already discussed, Rolf Lassgård is unfortunately treading down a familiar path in this role, but his mammoth physical presence, commanding, thunderous voice and nuanced facial reactions make him as engaging a watch here as he is in his TV roles. Unless one has seen the first film the rest of the cast won’t look so familiar and they all equip themselves suitably to their roles.

Peter Stormare is the exception, having made his name in many Hollywood productions on both the big and small screen, and as Torsten makes for a formidable sparring partner for Lassgård. Eero Milonoff is a little over the top at the maniacal Jari but not enough to push the boundaries of credibility too far.

Having seen the Swedish scenery via the murky images of pre-digital era small screen shows, it is refreshing to see it in the sharp HD transfer of this Blu-ray release. From the humble forest landscapes to the foreboding snowy vistas everything is captured beautifully here making for an ironically picturesque location for a brutal murder mystery.

False Trail has everything and more to satiate the demands of the Nordic Noir fans and even if this seems all too familiar for them, it has enough surprises and story twists to make this a satisfying watch. Should you not be familiar with Rolf Lassgård or Wallander this is still a gripping crime thriller that is difficult not to enjoy or become immersed in.