Nordic Noir in the movies: The Absent One review

Screening as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival in Australia

In a world where Nordic Noir is dominated by literature and television, the Department Q films have proven to be a shining example of the genre among contemporary film. Following the success of The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One follows the crime genre, but at the same time heightens it to the blockbuster status it has so rightfully been awarded – after all, the film was the biggest film in Denmark last year with almost 800,000 admissions in the cinema.

The crime is simple enough: in 1994 two young twins are found brutally murdered in a summer cottage. However, when the case ends up on Carl Morck’s desk twenty years later after the father commits suicide, he soon realises that something is terribly wrong – especially after the upper class students from a nearby boarding school suspected of the crime are dismissed and a local outsider pleads guilty and is convicted for the murders. As Carl and Assad start investigating the case, they lead onto an emergency call from a desperate girl who seems to know the secrets of the murders. Soon they are plunged into an intense search for the girl, Kimmie, who has been missing since the murders happened. But Carl and Assad are not the only ones trying to track her down as the girls testimonial is of great danger to a group of influential men at the stop of society who will do all they can to keep her quiet.

“There is something fascinating about boarding schools, something mystical about it. This closed environment with its own rules” – Mikkel Norgaard, ScreenDaily

The standout feature to this film is the plot. As the second adaptation from Jussi Alder Olsen’s Department Q series, screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel has done a terrific job of pinning together all the important plot-points, and some have said that it enhances the book (see our 2014 review of the Absent One). During the first half hour of the film they try to cram in as much back-story as possible, while at the same time maintaining a slow pace as with most Scandinavian crime thrillers. However, once Morck and Assad pick up the key points, the plot speed up into a wild chase, and it becomes a true conventional thriller. The ending seems rather over-the-top, though expertly played, but it is in the chase that the film holds true to its merit. The true highlights of the plot are the ways in which past and present intertwine; beautifully contrasted in the tone.

A key element to any Scandinavian crime thriller has always been the strong characters, and The Absent One definitely does not lack in strong characters. The supporting cast is solid – with big names Pilou Asbaek and David Dencik both impressive as playing their twisted and inherently evil characters. However, it is in Nickolaj Lie Kaas’s character Carl Morck that the true character shines. Portrayed during his work as the tough cop who mostly goes on instinct, this film we are allowed to see the personal side to Morck – particularly in a beautiful scene between him & Kimmie (played by Danica Curcic) in which he explains why he does his job the way he does. Scenes with his son have less of an impact, which is disappointing, but perhaps this is building up to the third film.

The main praise to the film is the way in which it is so conventional to the Nordic Noir genre, but at the same time such a breath of fresh air. One element that it doesn’t use as much, compared to big names like The Killing & The Millennium Trilogy, is the strong social commentary. Sure, there is some portrayal of the rich and poor, especially between Asbaeks & Curcic’s characters and their lifestyle, and yes they do make a small remark with regards to immigration, but the film doesn’t highlight with depth the current social issues in Denmark. However, for most fans of crime, this isn’t a bad thing: rather than listen to the film on its soapbox and discuss real issues, the fans are allowed to sit back and enjoy a thrilling crime chase.

Overall, The Absent One is a shining example of Scandinavian crime, showing off the blockbuster title that it has worked so hard to achieve. The film is a must-see for fans of crime, or for those looking to further understand what all the Nordic Noir fuss is about.  If it seems I am stressing the point that it is so conventional but at the same time so fresh, it’s because it is! In my opinion, it stands well above neighbours The Killing and The Millennium Trilogy in building and maintaining a world of suspense. Hopefully this will allow for more Nordic Noir movies.

A Conspiracy of Faith, the third film in the series, is currently in production.

Sidenote:  If you are worried because you haven’t seen the first one, don’t worry! The Absent One works well as a standalone film. If you are still worried – here’s our review of The Keeper of Lost Causes.



Film Status: Internationally Premiered
Production Year: 2014
Budget EUR: 5.2 M
Genre: Thriller
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Pilou Asbæk, David Dencik, Danica Curcic, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina
Language: Danish
Duration: 119
Cinematographer: Eric Kress
Editor: Morten Egholm, Frederik Strunk
Scriptwriter: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg
Country Of Origin: Denmark
Production Company: Zentropa Entertainment


CategoriesDenmark Reviews
Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.

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