PLOT: A snow-plough driver (Stellan Skarsgard) living in Norway goes after the crime syndicate responsible for the death of his son.
REVIEW: “A father has to avenge his son.” That’s the sole explanation given by Skarsgard’s Nils as he cuts a swath through Norway’s underworld, racking up a body count that would do Charles Bronson proud. Working simultaneously as both a straight-forward revenge tale and a deconstruction of the genre – thanks to heavy doses of typically Scandinavian gallows humor – IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE gives star Stellan Skarsgard the best role he’s had in years. It’s a film that should find a receptive North American audience after becoming a solid hit on the festival circuit.
Following the packed-Fantasia screening, a colleague asked “why can’t Hollywood make an action movie like that?” Indeed, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE feels ripe for a Hollywood remake, but the black humor that makes it such a delight probably wouldn’t make it past any studio in town. It’s risky mixing ultra-violent action and occasional blasts of broad comedy, but director Hanz Petter Moland definitely pulls it off with a style that’s all his own.
Nils, a mild-mannered fellow who’s so beloved in his community that he’s just been awards “citizen of the year” turns out to be a natural avenger. Often using his bare hands to pummel the baddies to death, he finds it surprisingly simple to work his way up to the big boss, thanks to the henchman tendency to carry iPhones with handy photos and contact info of all their criminal buddies. Of course, what starts off as just a few simple murders escalates into an all-out war, thanks to the paranoid villain – a scene-stealing Pål Sverre Hagen (star of KON-TIKI) who inadvertently ignites a gang war. When a group of Serbian gangsters led by Bruno Ganz comes into the picture, the body count of IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE goes through the roof, leading to an action-packed conclusion that’s as funny as it is violent.
Part of what makes this so unique – at least to North American audiences – is director Moland’s amazing use of Norwegian scenery. The landscape is covered in snow, and there’s something about the contrast of blood and snow that works particularly well in noir, giving this an almost Coen Bros-like flavor. One of the cleverest bits of dark humor is Moland’s idea to cut away to a black screen with an epitaph for each person as they die, leading to a hilarious screen-full of names following the ultra-violent conclusion.
However, it can’t be denied that the mix of humor and violence is not for everyone. The fact that some of the film gets so broad, with Hagen giving a full-on comedic performance as he dotes on his son’s diet and fights with his ex-trophy wife, means that it may rub some the wrong way. The Fantasia crowd was certainly the ideal audience for the film and they ate it up, even when the film occasionally lapses into quieter moments, including an unexpectedly touching aside between Skarsgard and the son of Hagan’s villain.
Luckily, Skarsgard’s involvement means that IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE will likely get a solid North American release, and thanks to the snow-covered location photography in Norway, it’s a must see on the big-screen. Like BLUE RUIN, this is a movie that reinvents the revenge-thriller for a somewhat post-modern audience. If you think you’ve seen all the genre has to offer, think again.