Let the Right One In

Genre pictures mix in arthouse European elements and social realism

In case there was any doubt Scandinavian filmmakers are proving they can deliver more than crime thrillers like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

With Spanish cinema still caught up in the economic recession storm, Scandinavia is emerging as a fresh European hotspot for director-driven genre films. Anchored by a new generation of helmers coming from short films or commercials they dare to make genres clash.

“A few years ago everyone was talking about Nordic Noir, thanks to movies like ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ or drama series like ‘Borgen.’ Now we’re seeing the ‘Nordic Twilight’ movement rising with supernatural/fantasy stories, horror thrillers that are not made in a Hollywood way,” says Rasmus Horskjær, film commissioner at the Danish Film Institute, pointing out the trend has been inspired by Tomas Alfredson’s 2008’s vampire romance “Let the Right One In.”

Adds Horskjær, “Our genre films are slower, stranger and artsy — mixing the codes of genre movies with traditional arthouse European elements and Scandinavia’s tradition of social realism.”

The Scandinavian industry is following an approach reminescent of the French film biz’s strategy in animation. France has established its own brand of auteurish toons that stand out from Hollywood’s pricier animated tentpoles. Scandinavian genre pictures follow a similar path, shooting in the local language with ultra-tight budgets and emphasizing on characters and atmosphere.

Pics riding the Nordic Twilight wave include Tommy Wirkola’s zomcom “Dead Snow” (Norway) and its sequel “Dead Snow 2,” which played at Sundance; and Andre Ovreda’s found-footage fantasy “Trollhunter” (Norway).

Promising Scandi genre projects include “Real Humans” helmer Levan Akin’s “The Circle,” based on the best-selling Swedish trilogy “Engelsfors” (Sweden); “When Animals Dream” by Jonas Arnby’s coming-of-age werewolf romance (Denmark); Patrik Syversen’s “Party Animal,” a horror comedy about a bachelor party gone wrong (Norway); and Jannik Johansen’s “The Undertaker” a thriller in the vein of “A History of Violence” starring “Game of Thrones’s” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Denmark).

Scandinavia’s emerging helmers such as Ask Hasselbalch are also venturing into mainstream genre films. He directed “Antboy,” Denmark’s first ever superhero movie, budgeted at $3.5 million. Pic bowed at Toronto where it earned warm reviews from critics.

Jacob Jarek, who is producing “The Undertaker” via Copenhagen-based Profile Pictures, says Scandinavian genre films are inspired by Korean and American genre films.

“Our genre films are still more about characters and a story and idea that is original, so the lack of visual effects (and the budgets for this) are compensated with strong story and ideas,” says Jarek.

But can these genre films have an impact outside Scandinavia? George Ivanov, Stockholm Film Festival’s artistic director, says they do have a shot.

“Genre films we produce are locally grounded. But they might have better chances of traveling than broad comedies or family films, which tend to be more culturally specific,” Ivanov says.

In a sign of Scandinavian genre films’ international appeal, a number of recent titles have lured foreign sales companies.

“Antboy,” for instance, is repped by Canadian shingle Attraction Distribution, “When Animals Dreams,” meanwhile, is sold by France’s Gaumont, “Dead Snow 2″ is repped by  Paris-based Elle Driver, while “Party Animal” is being handled by a U.S. outfit which will soon be announced.

“Scandinavian genre cinema is stark, surprising, troubling, visually singular. It dares to be politically incorrect in the relationships it depicts,” says Cecile Gaget, Gaumont’s international sales boss.

“In ‘When Animals Dream,’ for instance, Jonas creates a disturbing atmosphere that progressively instills a fear, whereas American or Spanish genre films tend to trigger an immediate emotions,” noted Gaget .

Described as a mix between “Let The Right One In” and “Carrie,” “When Animals Dream” turns on a young girl living in a small fishing village who discovers she is a werewolf and gets hunted down by the villagers.

The No. 1 challenge for these local genre movies is to get them financed because as Jarek points out, “The Scandinavian film business is still very much traditionally oriented, focusing on family films, quality dramas, crime and comedies, because that were the big admission numbers lie.”

But on the upside, these arthouse genre movies tend to generate stronger foreign sales and can punch in fairly high numbers on VOD/DVD.

Even for a more mainstream fare like “Antboy,” sticking to local-language isn’t an issue, says producer Eva Jakobsen at Nimbus.

“Of course there is the question of cultural differences such as language, humor and tone but I believe that a strong universal story with an original angle or approach can travel,” Jakobsen argues.

Following the success of “Antboy,” which sold to most key territories, Nimbus has just greenlit a sequel that’s set to begin production on Feb. 25 and shoot in Hamburg and Copenhagen.

It may be too early to determine whether this trend is here to stay but it looks as if it’s taking off.

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