It may be a disturbing psychological tell about me that the gloomy, grim content of Nordic noir feels like comfort food. Case in point: The Valhalla Murders, a familiar, Icelandic iteration of the genre that may give seasoned viewers a case of déjà vu. There’s nothing outwardly special about it, but its dark procedural rhythms are well executed, landing it nicely in the genre’s sweet spot.
Loosely based on actual events, the case begins with a brutal murder in Reykjavik, a case caught by recently divorced detective Kata (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir). When a second homicide appears to be connected to the first, the brass calls home Arnar (Björn Thors) from Oslo to assist her. Struggling to manage parenting with the rigors of her job, Kata is surprised when she’s passed over for promotion to lead her department, but once she and Arnar start digging into the case, it becomes clear the professional snub is the beginning of a pattern of obstruction. The serial murder case ties to a rural orphanage connecting all its victims, but even as it terrorizes the nation, someone higher up doesn’t want it solved. Kata and Arnar, relative strangers who find themselves separately embroiled in the case by personal baggage, resolve to unravel the conspiracy.
Neither the narrative trappings nor the specifics of the mystery will surprise anyone with a taste for Scandinoir. It’s got the usual male-female partnership—attractive blonde woman, brooding dark man. It has a detective returning to their home town, where old scars are quickly reopened. And it centers its story on unmentionable crimes being covered up by powerful people leveraging their privilege, in an outwardly safe, quiet place secretly beset by dark criminal undercurrents. In other words, it sounds a lot like Bordertown, or Deadwind, or Trapped, and probably numerous other European procedurals I haven’t seen yet, but probably will eventually. With capable stars in Filippusdóttir and Thors and all the requisite elements, The Valhalla Murders should scratch the itch for the genre’s fans—not particularly exceptional, but professional and effortlessly watched.