Midnight Sun starts with a scene that could be taken from any crime show set in the northern reaches of Europe. As a whirring noise increases in volume, a suit-clad man discovers that he’s in a tricky situation — and that his luck is about to take a turn for the worst. He screams, and in that instant, the eight-part series has its hook. And while gruesome acts are a staple of Nordic Noir, Midnight Sun swiftly proves both a worthy addition to the genre and its own entity.
Meet your new favourite crime-solving team
Soon, chief prosecutor Rutger Burlin (Peter Stormare) and his assistant Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten) are on the case, with determined French detective Kahina Zadi (Leïla Bekhti) swiftly flying in to join their efforts. Though the crime occurs in the mountainous area surrounding Kiruna, a small Swedish mining town in the Arctic Circle that’s dazed by constant sunlight for six months of the year, the victim’s French citizenship sparks an international investigation. With darkness absent, no one can hide: from the job at hand, from the ever-present glare, and from their respective personal demons. The more violence that occurs, the more the trio are immersed in a murky world that simultaneously exposes their own troubles — and the more urgent their quest becomes.
Building upon Nordic Noir basics
From Wallander to Millennium to The Killing, tasking flawed investigators with exploring sinister deeds in cold climes has seen the slow-burning mystery genre keep popping up on TV screens. If each series didn’t have its own flair, it’d be easy to accuse Nordic Noir of adhering to a template; however with a hint of formula comes the chance to build, evolve and toy with expectations. Midnight Sun boasts many of the elements audiences will expect — a mood of unease and a stark, naturalistic colour scheme to match, as well as an ominous score and a narrative keen on teasing its many secrets, for example. Thankfully, it never takes the easy path or makes its contents feel overly familiar, even to the most seasoned viewers of Scandinavian fare. Thinking you know where the story is going, then piecing together the twists and turns that follow, is part of what makes the show such a compelling watch.
A murder mystery in a moving town
Created, written and directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the team behind Scandinavian success The Bridge, Midnight Sun offers more than just a series of murder mysteries. Even when the show makes a splash with its memorable crimes, there’s no shortage of other puzzles to solve. Peering beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary communities may be another common trait of Nordic Noir; however every new revelation and clue gives rise to more questions, and hints that nothing is quite what it seems. Similarly, every character has a complex backstory, including the imposing presence that is the central township — which is in the midst of being relocated to a new site, a considerable task equally rife with controversy and intrigue.
Contemplating Indigenous culture
A strong sense of place isn’t the only aspect of Midnight Sun’s narrative that links back to its Swedish setting. When Kahina and her colleagues spy similarities between the crimes they’re investigating and local rituals, the show brings the area’s Indigenous Sami people into the story. Something bigger is clearly afoot; however intertwining a setting blighted by the mining industry with the impact upon the Indigenous populace makes a definite statement. It’s also an inclusion that thrusts a rarely seen aspect of Sweden into the spotlight.
Another excellent cast
Nordic noir has turned many of its on-screen talents into international stars: Millenium’s Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist have featured in Prometheus and John Wick, respectively; The Killing’s Lars Mikkelsen spent time on Sherlock and House of Cards; and Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen can be seen in Dan Brown adaptation Inferno, as well as the first season of Westworld. Midnight Sun’s Peter Stormare already boasts a significant resume (including Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Prison Break, just to name some of his 170 acting credits); however Leïla Bekhti and Gustaf Hammarsten might just be the genre’s next breakout stars. And if they already look familiar, it’s because she previously featured in Oscar-nominated film A Prophet, while he has popped up in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, series Crimes of Passion, and the Sacha Baron Cohen-starring Brüno.
Discovering secrets in an isolated place
Even devoid of snow, there’s something about the distinctive Scandinavian landscape that seeps under the skin. Wide open spaces, a harsh and unforgiving environment, a permeating sense of isolation: they’re the same factors that make Australian-set horror films so unnerving, just on the other side of the world. With Kiruna’s rocky surroundings often glimpsed in a town that has many a use for a helicopter, there’s no escaping the restlessness and tension that springs simply from gazing down from above. The fact that land that has been mined to the extent that its residents have to be moved to a new location only adds to the suspense, while also providing an obvious but effective manifestation of the many secrets waiting to be unearthed.
Midnight Sun is streaming now at SBS On Demand.