Thursday, 15 September 2022

Katla (2021)

This is a TV Series which just arrived on Netflix, though created in 2021 by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Baltasar Kormákur, the team previously responsible for bringing us another Icelandic series, the thriller Trapped. This is a strange one, so be ready with brain in gear!

We join the community at the town Vik, at the foot of Katla, a volcano in Iceland which has erupted a year before. There is ash spewing all around the district and those who have permission from the government to stay there are generally supporting the effort to research and deal with the scientific fallout. They all have to wear masks outside, especially if the wind is blowing from the north.

We follow a handful of characters going about their lives, each with some sort of crisis going on, depression, unhappiness, divorce, conflict, grief - most of them having lost loved ones in the initial eruption, or in some cases, before and unrelated. Much healing is needed for almost all the characters, who reflect a damaged and battered community.

One day, a 20 year old girl walks out of the volcano area, naked, but covered in ash, stuck to her body. She has no memory of why she is there or what has gone immediately before, seemingly with much missing time in her consciousness. Turns out that she has the same name as a woman who lived in the town 20 years before and who is now living in Sweden. She thinks she works in the local hotel and that she was at work just the day before.

Then a little boy appears, similar story, being removed from time and reality, confused and naked. Then another young female, the same - and so on. People start appearing from the debris of the volcano and each has some sort of link with the people in Vik, who club together to try and work out what on earth is going on, who they are, what has happened, where they have come from and what to do with them.

But actually, they don't do a very good job and this is where some of the idea seems to fall apart a bit. There seems to be too much ready-acceptance from some of the characters and not enough shock and disbelief, as you'd expect, given the bizarre, off-the-wall situation. People seem to take it in their stride and although the viewer is afforded a ride along with the unfolding mystery, it's often not very credible. Not the core idea, but the characters' reactions, or lack thereof.

I won't say too much here to spoil any of the outcomes so that those who give it a go can enjoy the story evolving, but be prepared to shelve reality to some degree. As we float through the fairly drawn-out proceedings I felt that the pacing could have been a little faster as we spend too long on aspects of the story devoid of interest to the plot.

Questions remain at the end and the finale leaves the series open to a sequel. Having said that, it's clear to the viewer by the end what is going on as the reveals are staggered along the path, but there's not full satisfaction as much of it is open to interpretation. Make of it what you will. It could be argued that some of it feels supernatural, often it feels like they're all in a dream and other times that a scientific explanation is just around the corner.

The Icelandic players have differing levels of experience. Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð plays Gríma and maintains the position of the main character in the series, trying to make sense of it all - as one of the people reappearing is her sister Ása played by Íris Tanja Flygenring (Trapped). Ingvar Sigurdsson (The Northman, Killing Eve, Lamb) plays Þór and seems to be the most experienced of the cast, Aliette Opheim (Fortitude, Black Crab) as Gunhild, Þorsteinn Bachmann (Trapped, The Valhalla Murders, The Deep) as Gísli and Darri is played by Björn Thors (The Valhalla Murders, The Deep).

The landscape is fascinating and nicely shot as we see oodles of ice, snow, ash and water in this cold climate. The characters are obviously all wrapped up not only against the ash but also the chill and the sets are bleak, cold and unwelcoming.

It's an interesting series which is certainly worth a look, but you need to approach it with an open mind! I decided to turn on the dubbing instead of subtitles as I found that they had been crafted particularly well, using Icelandic voice actors rather than American or others. It added to the authenticity somehow, though I would usually go for subtitles. It runs for 8 episodes of the usual 42 minute length, so it's binge-watchable too. Give it a go and see what your interpretation might be!

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