After a somewhat muted reception at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival, Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance comes to home video courtesy of Madman Films and is an impressive revenge picture – sufficiently violent and gritty in a backdrop of often beautiful and inspired mis-en-scene, combined with a wicked streak of black humour. In any ways, the film did for me what the similarly marketed and far more widely celebrated Force Majeure didn’t – both relish in that Northern European deadpan humour juxtaposed with pretty horrific content (though in different ways), but while Ruben Ostlund’s film was limited in my eyes by its empty provocatives and histrionics, much more character and ingenuity seems to be have imparted into Moland’s Nordic anti-thriller.
Nils Dickman 1 (Stellan Skarsgard) is a snow plough driver in Norway whose son has died in a reported heroin overdose, which is quickly uncovered to be a cover-up, murdered as a result of a drug deal gone wrong. Nils tracks down and kills those responsible, but soon realises they were just pawns in a local criminal organisation headed by the eccentric Greven, or “The Count” (Pal Sverre Hagen). What starts as a very economical set-up is complicated as Nils violently tracks down the various goons in Greven’s employ, while the arch-villain’s attentions are diverted from the growing bodycount in his organization by a miscommunication which breaks his truce with rival Serbian gang headed by Papa (Bruno Ganz) and quite hilariously, his own disastrous custody dispute with his ex-wife.
English-language commentators have been quick to reference Tarantino and the Coen brothers to process the film’s distinctive humour and idiosyncrasies, which seems a tad cinematically solipsistic and dismissive of the tradition of deadpan humour throughout Northern Europe that it feels more aligned with. Skarsgard’s stoicism and the film’s incursions into the absurd completely straight-faced brings to mind the films of Aki Kaurismaki, to say nothing of Ostlund once more (Force Majeure’s stand-out performer, Game of Thrones’ Kristopher Hivju has a wonderful short appearance here), even if on paper the blood-thirsty revenge narrative has obvious American brethren. Continual forays into minor details about different characters (including one very unexpected romantic relationship) gives this film life as a bizarre tapestry of an ensemble of characters rather than a direct A to B questline for Nils.
The film’s eccentricities carry over to its distinct aesthetic as well. Almost no scene is shot with the same visual style, which occasionally feels self-concious in its attempts to find some novel angle on even straightforward dialogue scenes. By the same token, this also occasionally leads to some really stunning and inventive shots as well, an unexpected slow-mo sequence lending gravitas to one encounter, or a hazy snowscape adding larger perspective to Nils’ quest, or even down to the foregrounding of the bizarre furnishings in The Count’s ultra-modern home making for some really interesting visuals. However, the climactic scene of a massive gunfight is so poorly choreographed and directed that unless you take a particularly generous reading of it (the confusion and spatial incoherence as a mechanism for Nils’ outsider perspective) it does bring the legitimacy of the rest of the film’s erratic visual scheme into question, even if the throwing shots against the wall to see what sticks contributes more hits than misses.
Ultimately, it’s a compelling revenge tale with generous splashes of personality and humour playing off and enriching Skarsgard’s very serious central performance, and much is made of the fact that Nils himself is an outsider (a Swede in Norway), although the film has little pretension as to its limited thematic aims. One of its central gimmicks is bringing up the name and nicknames of every character who dies on a black titlecard, which both adds a little depth and backstory to even the supporting characters and glorified extras, as well as playing with dramatic irony as it becomes a recurring gag in itself as the film’s body count becomes higher and higher. Just one of the touches that really made this film work for me – it’s a shame it has been relegated to a DVD-only release here, but it seems this film is destined to be a future cult favourite.