DIRECTED BY: Henrik Rubin Genz
FEATURING: Jakob Cedergren, Kim Bodnia, Lene Maria Christiansen
PLOT: After a mysterious nervous breakdown, city cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is
re-assigned to a claustrophobically small, rural town as its only marshal. He quickly discovers the town’s frightful dynamic: its inhabitants all aware of resident bully Jørgen’s (Kim Bodnia) adulterous and abusive antics, but no one takes a stand against him.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though riddled with strange characters and unexpected darkness, for the most part Terribly Happy is played as a straight thriller with Coen brothers-style humor. There are a few weird and creepy moments to create tension, but nothing truly unreal.
COMMENTS: Poor Robert. As played in an understated performance by Jakob Cedergren, he’s a stand-up guy whose darker side is persistently tested as he meets with more and more obstacles. The more he pushes for change, the more the town’s internal politics and penchant for keeping secrets rise up against him. The old marshal spent most of his time drinking and allowed a lot of “accidents” and petty crimes to go by undocumented. After Jørgen’s desperate wife Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christiansen) comes to Robert with evidence of her husband’s physical abuse, he is determined to convict him, but is frequently hindered by both the town’s strict social structure and his own conflicting passions.
This movie feels as if it’s made by someone whose biggest cinematic influences are Blood Simple and Fargo, and that isn’t a bad thing. Most of Terribly Happy does seem like the Coen Brothers appropriated the premise of Hot Fuzz with Danish actors and more dramatic intent. A lot of the story plays as an extremely black comedy, but as the film progresses, the development and uncovering of Robert’s character become more focused, and it twists itself into a somewhat bleak but gripping drama.
The narrative is filled with a number of comedic moments placed up against truly unsettling ones, with certain simple visual cues to either send a shiver down the spine or elicit a knowing smile. Director Henrik Ruben Genz utilizes the expansive boggy fields surrounding the town to create a slightly desolate atmosphere, which results in some visually interesting scenes. The script, while well-written, is a little uneven and doesn’t do anything especially new, but the strengths of the cast and twisted tone make this film a cool experience.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It may not sound funny, but there’s a bleakly comic air about the story, and a bit of surrealism, suggesting the most caustic side of the Coen brothers.”–Walter Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle (contemporaneous)
NOTE: This review is also published in a slightly different form at Film Forager.