The new Nordic Noir drama Monster delivers all the classic hallmarks of the genre, but makes a conscious choice to amp up the focus on relationships in the show. It's characters first, murder-mystery second as we delve into the world of Police Inspector Hedda Hersoug (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes), a woman returning to the small town she grew up in. Here, she is forced to confront the relationships that have soured since she left the town, along with the mystery that also surrounded the loss of her own mother when Hedda was a young girl.
Hedda is forced to work with hotshot detective Joel Dreyer (Nordic Noir favourite Jakob Oftebro) to hunt down a serial killer. With the investigation falling apart, and both detectives butting heads, they resort to extreme measures to stay on the case and keep their personal secrets from coming to light.
SBS recently sat down with the creator of Monster, Hans Christian Storrøsten, to discuss the development of the series and its many inspirations.
SBS: I was watching an early production version of the first episode and a temporary clip of music used was from the show The Leftovers. Both shows have a very similar tone and focus on characters. It provided a different texture to the show, which got me thinking about your own experience with the show. As the series writer, you have created a full script for the series, but as other creative people joined the production, they layered onto it their own work. How does it feel when you see the finished product with additional texture layered onto something you created?
First of all, it is very nice to be compared to The Leftovers, which is a really great show. I didn’t start to see The Leftovers until well into the writing process, but when I started I really enjoyed it. The reason why I felt akin to it was because of its emotional journey. It plays on emotions to a great extent. That show is about a broken family being brought back together. In Monster, there is a couple of families and a murder that has just occurred in a small community, everyone subconsciously is aware that somebody knows the murderer personally. With the lead detective, whose mothers disappearance may be connected to the murder, takes her on a personal journey. Dwelling back on her past and her family.
With the music, we had a director come in for the first four episodes who was also a big fan of The Leftovers. She drew a lot of inspiration from that show.
There are a lot of TV shows that begin with the idea of a person returning home to the place they grew up. What made you want to explore that idea and how concerned were you about not repeating similar approaches to that sort of story?
When I started writing Monster, I had, because we filmed it in the far north of Norway, my family comes from the northern part of Norway. So I, for a period of 2-3 years, went up there to work. In a way I was drawing from my own personal experience. I knew that it was a well-used trope, but I became conscious of that after I started writing this more and I kind of liked it. It worked for me and thus, I wasn’t too worried about the trope or convention of starting a story in that way as long as it felt real for the lead character.
It works well as an audience member being introduced into the community with the lead detective not being part of the community.
It’s an efficient way or storytelling. It’s the reason it is a trope.
Why was this story of interest to you at this point in time?
I had been up there working for 2-3 years as a journalist and documentarian. I was fascinated by the experience of the nature and life there... how daunting it can be to work up there. Nature doesn’t play along. It has its own agenda and does whatever it wants to do in a way. Trying to do a 9-5 job up there and to co-exist with nature was really difficult sometimes.
I was filming out in the wild and we would get four seasons in just a couple of hours. So any kind of production or film shoot would shut down immediately. That brought a heavy toll upon the people working there. If you remove someones coffee, shower, sleep, and loved ones, and get thrown into the blender of that environment up there, people’s positive sides aren’t always going to shine through. I just thought that was a phenomenal setting for a story.
What do you tell people about Monster to get them excited about it?
The Nordic Noir genre has a bit of wear and tear. We don’t really like to be looked upon as only creating Nordic Noir. When I started writing it, I thought that if it was going to be worth seeing and I want to see it, it needs to be something different. Or at least try to push the Nordic Noir genre in a different direction. I wanted to make a less plot-driven and more character-driven crime story. This is the police investigation that doesn’t go to plan. The suspense, chaos, and surprise about what follows from that premise.
There is a strong international appetite for Scandi Noir, but how concerned were you about making it simple enough for foreign audiences to understand the subtleties of the culture? I recall one moment where the characters expressed concern about the Southie detectives from getting involved.
If it’s local, it is global in a way. This is a north / south problem that we have in Norway, but I don’t think it is unique to Norway. People from rural areas feel like they are being looked down upon by people from the Capital in a way. You have that in Australia as well. I am not really worried that people won’t understand city/rural conflicts. I had to be true to what the general truth is in the northern part of Norway and try to embed that into the story - not worry too much about whether people will understand it or not.
We now live in a global community and watch a lot of the same TV. Are you conscious of the influences that international drama has? Do you need to make sure that you are also taking influence from local drama and stories, to make sure you are not losing a sense of region and location to your story?
In Norway we have a lot of dialects and Norweigans are very proud of their distinct dialects, so people are conscious of TV series set in these areas. It’s hard to make that kind of TV series in Norway without it being scrutinised. There have not been too many TV shows like [Monster] recently that have been done well.
What have you been watching recently?
Just now I have been watching Ken Burns new documentary series about the Vietnam War, which was really good.
Binge the first season of Monster at SBS On Demand from 11 January.