Echoes From The Dead (Skumtimmen)
Sweden (2013) Dir. Daniel Alfredson
Marketing people must often be unpopular with filmmakers when their efforts to promote a film raises expectations in the eyes of the audience. The poster for Echoes From The Dead proudly proclaims “From The Producers Of The Millennium Trilogy” and the film is directed by the man who helmed the second two films in that series, Daniel Alfredson, so we can expect a great film right?
Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with this film but it doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of its aforementioned predecessors, despite a strong cast and a decent story. Based on the novel by Johan Theorin, the setting is the misty, rural town of Öland in the early 1990’s, where Julia Davidsson (Lena Endre) returns to see her father Gerlof (Tord Peterson). For Julia this is a poignant return as her son Jens disappeared 21 years earlier, the guilt of which still haunts her as she left him with Gerlof at the time.
Gerlof and his oldest friend Ernst (Jan Tiselius) refuse to believe that Jens disappeared, working on a theory that he was killed by a notorious criminal named Nils Kant (Felix Engström), a returning fugitive who in World War II shot two Nazi soldiers, stole their gold then fled Sweden – but Kant died in 1968 and Jens went missing in 1971. The next day Ernst is found dead, declared an accidental fall by police chief Lennart Henriksson (Thomas W. Gabrielsson) which prompts Julia to stay around for her father. Then Gerlof receives a boy’s sandal in the post, the same one as Jens, reopening the mystery of his disappearance.
The aesthetic and tone of this film is decidedly grey and maudlin, as if to reflect the sombre disposition Julia permanently exudes or more honestly, in keeping with the reputation Nordic Noir has for its grim dramas over the years. Indeed there is little for Julia to smile about, her relationship with Gerlof being frosty at best due to Julia blaming him for Jen’s death/disappearance. Gerlof is aware of this so his continuing investigation is his way of making amends against Julia’s wishes and the insistence by Lennart that it is futile.
Ernst death and the arrival of the sandal certainly begin to justify Gerlof’s theories, while Julia is being wooed by Lennart who lets slip some vital information to appease her – such as how he saw the body in Kant’s coffin as a rookie cop and how as part of the search he could confirm Jens disappearance. Some odd discoveries by Julia when she catches up with the locals changes her mind about Gerlof’s theory and the pair soon turn detective.
This development is a curious one, largely because of the abrupt shift in character for Gerlof, going from a bumbling, tired old man to Sherlock Holmes almost on the turn of his heel. In fact he seems to be doing a better job than the police are in solving the mystery – insert your own joke here. While this allows for further layers of intrigue to be piled onto the initial mystery it does beg the question why the people how had this information weren’t called upon to share it with the police at the time?
Naturally the big reveal goes someway to explaining this it doesn’t fully justify it with any real satisfaction. Perhaps Theorin’s original novel does a better job of handling this, as this film runs for a tidy 95 minutes and much of the exploration into the mystery admittedly feels rushed, each new lead arriving seemingly on cue and with sequential regularity. Despite this the script does a good enough job in keeping applying the facts we do already know and tying them together with the later developments.
One thing will be assumed quite early on about where the story goes and a certain character’s ultimate involvement is a tad too obvious but there are some last minute twists to make sure that the connections are less predictable. The central conceit rests on how Nils Kant fits into things, having been declared dead three years before Jens went missing. His story opens the film with flashbacks surfacing intermittently throughout but again, the connection is not as clear cut as it seems throwing the audience a couple of cute curveballs when the details finally emerge.
The main characters are fairly well drawn but develop in awkward stages, such as Gerlof’s sudden energetic burst of detective-itis or how the closed book that is Julia quickly opens up to the not very warm advances of policeman Lennart. Among the supporting cast, people with too much significance to the plot come and go with too much convenience, which again may have been a casualty of the time allotment that often plagues book to screen transition.
At least the cast apply themselves to making the most of the roles given to them. Lena Endre will be the most familiar face from the Millennium films and Wallander on TV and after many roles as support, shows she can carry the lead eminently enough. Endre convinces as Julia, a woman burdened with years of guilt and is the film’s strongest performer. Tord Peterson takes some time to define his character of Gerlof – partially due to the script – but comes across as amiable enough while Thomas W. Gabrielsson is less subtle in making Lennart seem like a competent cop.
We can only assume that the frantic pacing and sprawling web of intrigue that made up the Millennium series might have influenced Daniel Alfredson to take on this much slower yarn instead. It is certainly well photographed and captures the muggy and drizzly ambience of the remote Öland location but the laconic pace and TV movie suffers from a palpable lack of excitement.
To pass the time or to satiate a quick Nordic Noir fix one can do worse than Echoes From The Dead but it cowers somewhat in the shadow of its more well known and dynamic contemporaries.