Over the last few years my Saturday nights on TV have become less about the talent shows and more about getting a fix of foreign drama on BBC Four. If you’ve told me some years ago that I’d be obsessing about subtitled crime drama I’d’ve laughed politely in your face. We’re drowning in homegrown crime drama as it is. Do we really need foreigners coming over ‘ere and messing about with crime drama? It tuns out, yes we bloomin do! We really really do. In my view, The Bridge is the holy grail of the genre. Series one blew my tiny mind, series 2 was impressive and the most recent third series was as mind-blowing as the first.
In January this year I happened upon another gem called Trapped. Another brilliantly plotted and pace tale about a murder in an Icelandic town that ends up virtually cut off from the world outside world. The only issue with gorging on these wonderful bits of television is that you can feel almost bereft when they finish. Since Trapped I haven’t been completely engrossed in another import, but then in the lead up to Christmas BBC Four aired an eight-parter called Modus.
Perhaps it wasn’t to the scale of my favourites of the genre, but it was incredibly atmospheric and intriguing. The story is simple: A former FBI profiler (the brilliant Melinda Kinnaman) returns home to Sweden to spend time with her two young daughters. Though though the word ‘autism’ is never referenced, eldest daughter Stina (Esmeralda Struwe) is definitely on the autistic spectrum. Whilst her mother is downstairs enjoying the reception Stina leaves her bedroom and wonders around the deserted hotel. On her journey she unwittingly witnesses the murder of a well-known celebrity chef. If that wasn’t bad enough, the killer sees her! Gripped with fear she makes a run for it, but the murderer is hot on her heels. The pair make it outside where Stina is reunited with her mother. This entire sequence as she literally runs for her life is superb. It ends with Stina very nearly colliding with a lorry. It had me there.
What follows is a compelling, fast paced crime drama that keeps you guessing at every turn. My favourite thing about these Scandi dramas is how they are structured. Modus, like the best of the genre features a lot of seemingly unconnected people. You’re never sure how they fit into the story. There’s a an outspoken female vicar and her husband, a gay couple who are have enlisted a surrogate to help them have a child and an artist all of whom seem to be on the killers radar. I shan’t tell much about the plot as it would spoil your enjoyment of the show as the whole but it is one of the better recent foreign imports.
Special mention has Esmeralda Struwe. Stina is a difficult character to get right. She’s tortured by what she’s seen but she’s unable to articulate it to anyone around her. Struwe plays the character withdrawn and slightly with a great deal warmth coupled with distance as grapples with the enormity of what she’s witnessed. Stina’s life is further complicated by the fact the killer is still lurking. The mystery here isn’t a whodunnit. We see the killer lurking before he meets his next seemingly random victim. As the body count starts piling up Stina’s mother Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman) is asked to profile the murderer she’s put into a very interesting position. On the professional side she’s helping with police inquiries, on the other she’s the mother to a daughter deeply trautmatised by the actions of this man.
The mystery of Modus is what connects all the people that meet their death at the hands of our charismatic killer. That’s something I shan’t spoil here. Whilst perhaps not an instant classic Modus draws you in with its fast pace and immediately intriguing storyline. The characters are all likeable and well drawn and it looks stunning. If you’ve dipped your toe in the bloody waters of Nordic Noir I highly reccommend this one to you, and if you want an introduction this could well be for you too.
Modus is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 19th December by Nordic Noir & Beyond