Department Q – The Absent One (Fasandræberne)

Denmark (2014) Dir. Mikkel Nørgaard

This gruesome, sinuous slice of Nordic Noir is the second film in the Department Q series based on the novels of Jussi Adler-Olsen, following 2013’s Keeper Of Lost Causes. As is usually the case, the cast list gives fans a chance to play “Spot the Familiar Face” whenever a recognisable actor from any one of the many TV shows that have graced our screens shows up.

Returning as the newly created Department Q following the success of the previous case are detectives Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares), joined by new secretary Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt). Carl is obliged into taking the case of the murder of twins from 1994, when their father, former policeman Henning Jørgensen (Hans Henrik Voetmann), commits suicide hours after begging Carl for help.

With a box full of case notes gathered by Jørgensen, Carl and Assad’s investigation begins with the man jailed for the murder, Bjarne Thøgersen (Kristian Høgh Jeppesen). His subsequent call to wealthy and powerful industrialist Ditlev Pram (Pilou Asbæk) about the questioning sets off a plan to cover up the truth about this twenty-year mystery and the hint for the one person with all the answers.

Say what you like about Scandi thrillers, whether they are run-of-the-mill affairs or too inextricably nightmarish for their own good, they are densely plotted and seldom easy to predict. Even if the evidence is there in front of us, as is the case here, there is always a twist of two waiting to subvert the truth or take it into a new and unexpected direction, complete with the obligatory violent denouement.

Mikkel Nørgaard returns to the director’s chair for this tale of public school elitism, again relying on a fractured narrative to relate the story in an effectively tantalising manner. It opens unapologetically with a POV angle of female victim Marie (Katrine Bruun) being raped by masked assailants whilst her brother Thomas (Nikolaj Groth) can be heard wailing in the background from being beaten.

Through further flashbacks we are introduced to self-centred and aloof boarding school student Kimmie (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) who latches onto rich boy Ditlev (Marco Ilsø) and his best friend Ulrik (Philip Stilling). Bjarne (Adam Ild Rohweder) is also part of the group but as an older boy, he doesn’t attend the school instead he provides them with drink and drugs for when they play truant.

At this point, nothing too rebellious aside from skiving off, partying and a sexual relationship between Kimmie and Ditlev appears to happen, and the twins don’t even factor into the story at all. Back in the present day and while Ditlev and Ulrik (David Dencik) are still close friends, Kimmie (Danica Curcic) is now a delusional hobo whose only friend is a drug addict prostitute Tine (Katrine Rosenthal).

Something obviously quite drastic occurred in the interim for this tight knit trio to end up with such divergent fates and Nørgaard is in no hurry to reveal this to us. The ongoing investigation by Carl and Assad has ruffled a few feathers, forcing them two back for every step forward they take in getting closer to the truth, and it would transpire that the old adage of “friends in high places” does have its benefits.

Neatly compacted into 110 minutes, the story takes in a false rape accusation, an extra-marital affair, murder, corruption, betrayal, bullying, fetishism and a tense game of cat and mouse that involve plenty of violence and bloodshed. Yet, amidst all of this, Nørgaard is able to squeeze in the domestic issues that blight Carl when away from his investigations.

But “squeeze in” is exactly the problem with this facet of the character development (or lack thereof). As opined in the review for the previous film, there is scope for these stories to be extended beyond the single film format and even as a film series, the backstories of the characters and what makes them tick doesn’t get the attention it deserve.

Only Carl is afforded this via the brief encounters with his truculent stepson, for whom he is too busy to spend time with, creating a vast divide between two people living in the same apartment. Carl is also a stoic, brusque and apparently emotionless chap lacking social grace and tact, possibly a candidate for being on the Autism Spectrum, but this is never alluded to or discussed.

Assad is the easy going, tactful and apologetic one of the pair but what happens with him away from the office is a mystery as deep as the murder they are investigating. We know he has taken a shine to new girl Rose, but that is it. And while Rose looks set to be the vital third cog in Department Q’s engine, she again is nothing more than a blank slate behind a perky smile and a mane of curly hair.

Putting aside these limitations, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares seem to already have found Carl and Assad comfortable skins to inhabit, and while this dichotomy is hardly original the natural chemistry is there and enjoyable enough. All it needs now is for Assad to be treated more as an equal partner than a sidekick and perhaps they will be become an endearing police duo.

For all the screen time our heroes are given, we cannot overlook the total commitment from the supporting cast, fully immersing themselves in their roles. Pilou Asbæk seems to be enjoying himself as bad guy Ditlev, but the most demanding role is that of Kimmie; despite being decades apart, both sides of her complex personality deftly essayed by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina and Danica Curcic.

A gloriously dark, sexy, deviant and gory entry in the crime thriller milieu The Absent One does have a made for TV feel to it, but don’t let that put you off if you enjoy a taut and involved Nordic Noir opus.