Brace yourselves, because in the bone-chilling Fortitude, the deathly cold is the least of the danger that lies within. There are also psychotic polar bears and possessed townsfolk, but that's not even the half of it.
When the eponymous fictional Arctic Circle outpost is rocked by its first ever murder, a series of strange, terrifying events follows and the casualties rise. Is it environmental? Is it supernatural? Is there some devilish force at work?
Lovers of genre-bending, twisted Nordic noir will be gripped. Here are a few more reasons why you’ll want to visit the bizarre world of Fortitude.
It’s freaky as hell
It’s been compared to Twin Peaks, Lost and Fargo, but that doesn’t quite do the show justice – Fortitude isn’t so easily categorised. Starting off with a gruesome Nordic noir murder, it soon becomes apparent Fortitude is an ambitious genre mash unlike much of what we’ve seen before.
It’s a tense mystery, claustrophobic thriller, environmental horror (described in a spoiler-heavy Radio Times story as a "horrible, grotesque, distorted version of the natural process" by writer and series creator Simon Donald) with supernatural undertones, all wrapped up in a Nordic noir basket of crazy. What’s more, the juggling of genres, alongside the build-up of the show’s intricate mythology, works.
Beneath the quaint mix of characters and politicking of a close-knit Arctic village, there’s an eeriness, malevolence and paranoia lurking. Soon, a feverish psychopathy takes over. There’s atmospheric tension to burn and some unsettling twists on horror tropes – a very creepy kid, marauding insects, rapacious beasts, etc. The gore is indeed grisly, but like all good horror, it’s judicious.
And that’s just season one. In season two, things get even weirder.
The premise is based on real science
It may sound unlikely, but the strange environmental phenomena underpinning the story is all too real, if heightened for dramatic purposes. There are real-life cases of polar bears cannibalising each other in Arctic regions and mass miscarriages occurring in the reindeer population there. And to avoid spoilers, let’s just say it’s not only woolly mammoth remains, like those discovered in the show, which have survived the Ice Age.
“Polar bears are indeed showing cannibalistic behaviour and it’s not immediately obvious that it’s because they’re simply so hungry they have no other choice,” producer Patrick Spence tells The Telegraph. “There’s a myth that the reindeer are miscarrying because there’s a devil in the herd. We loved that. One of [the] things that does get described early on in Fortitude is the wonderful idea that there’s a devil out there. Is that what we’re dealing with? Is there some sort of otherness at play?”
The killer cast
The dream international cast includes Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing) as the town’s beleaguered governor, Hildur Odegard; Stanley Tucci as wily American detective Eugene Morton; Richard Dormer (Game of Thrones) as volatile sheriff Dan Anderssen; Michael Gambon as ailing wildlife photographer Henry Tyson; Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers) as Professor Charlie Stoddart, in way over his head; Verónica Echegui (The Cold Light of Day) as mysterious hotel employee Elena Ledesma; and Luke Treadaway (A Street Cat Named Bob) as tenacious scientist Vincent Rattrey.
Dennis Quaid, Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) and Parminda Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham) join the cast in season two.
But don’t get too attached to the characters. Fortitude employs the “Game of Thrones effect”, where anyone, no matter how vital to the story they may seem, can be offed at any time.
“Nobody is safe simply because they’re a famous actor or because they’re playing a likeable character,” warns creator Simon Donald (Low Winter Sun).
The unique setting
Also starring is the unique location. The village of Reydarfjördur in East Iceland stands in for the fictional town of Fortitude, which is based on a community of research scientists on the Svalbard Islands that lie in the Arctic Ocean between Norway and the North Pole. The archipelago is said to be “the northernmost place on the planet with a permanent population”.
Written in to the series are many of the stringent rules that these isolated communities must follow. Residents must carry a gun to protect against polar bears (which can considerably outnumber them), employment is mandatory as there’s no welfare system, residents abusing drugs and alcohol are kicked out of the community, and you can’t give birth or die there.
And it goes without saying that the scenery is breathtaking and makes you want to visit – although you may think twice when you see what goes on in this show.
It’s Nordic noir without the subtitles
We love subtitles here at SBS, but sometimes it’s nice to give your reading eyes a break. Believe us, you’ll need to give your full attention to the details in the unfolding mythology – the killer clues, not to mention the head-spinning twists and turns. Also, you may be peeking at your screen between your fingers as you watch. Did we mention it’s scary?
There’s a reason why Fortitude’s dialogue is in English. In the communities it’s based on, English is the predominant language because of the Western academic population, and visiting tourists and scientists.
It’s the definition of binge-worthy
Given the overarching what-the-hellness and seat-gripping tension, Fortitude is made for bingeing. Just when you think the writers have written themselves into a corner, they serve up another stunning revelation. You’ll be dying (pardon the pun) to find out what happens next, because it’s not so much about who is doing the killing, but what and why.
You’ve got 26 thrilling episodes to soak up, so get cracking!
Fortitude seasons 1 - 3 now streaming at SBS On Demand.