Ever since witnessing Anthony Hopkins in his terrifying portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel, Silence of the Lambs, I’ve been pretty much obsessed with the ‘Serial Killer’ movie. Silence of the Lambs is just one of those films I never seem to tire of, from the excellent performances of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine, to the twisting, turning narrative and memorable dialogue, “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again”, it’s a completely engrossing 118 minutes. It was another four years after Silence of the Lambs that I saw another serial killer movie I truly loved, this time David Fincher’s Se7en. Set in a nameless city of endless rain, Se7en is a dark, unsettling tale of serial killer ‘John Doe’ and the detectives who try to stop him, before he completes a psychotic set of murders based on the Seven Deadly Sins. As the feature film that almost certainly announced Fincher to the filmmaking world (I’m not counting Alien3), Se7en remains at the top of its field and is often imitated in terms of both style and content. Since Se7en and Silence of the Lambs, we have seen many more serial killers hit the screen and try to capture the tension and style that Demme and Fincher produced, with mixed results.
In 2000, five years before he brought us Batman, Christian Bale gave us Patrick Bateman, the American Psycho, in Mary Harron’s adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel. Bale’s Bateman persona was slick, smooth, totally out of control and presented us with something we’d never seen before, a serial killer we could almost admire, instead of despise. With the next notable entry to the genre, the Saw franchise started reasonably brightly, but with a never-ending line of sequels following its 2004 release, it quickly descended into a cheap thrills franchise. I was filled with great anticipation, when I heard of Fincher’s return to the serial killer movie in 2007, with his period piece Zodiac. Ultimately though (and I know many will disagree with this), I found myself a little disappointed and empty after watching Zodiac, it just didn’t push the buttons I was hoping it would. I have always promised myself I’d go back and watch Zodiac again, as watching films always depends on your mood and attitude at the time, but sometimes it’s hard to get over a first impression.
Now, in 2010, we’re presented with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and something new; the tension and suspense of a Hollywood thriller, mixed with the style and sensibilities of a European art movie. Adapted from the first novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Män som hatar kvinnor/Men Who Hate Women (as the film’s known in Sweden), Niels Arden Oplev’s taut film is a tale of a family with a dark secret. Odd couple, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, one a controversial journalist, the other an expert hacker and bisexual punk, unexpectedly find themselves engulfed in the search for a serial killer. This is the story in a nutshell (trying not to reveal too much!), but the film is so much more than this. The tension and pace doesn’t seem to relent throughout the film’s 152 minutes and I was totally surprised by just how dark this film was (the side story of Lisbeth and her parole officer was particularly bleak).
Recently Swedish cinema, has displayed a stylized bleakness, recognisable aesthetic and a narrative flair with Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In and these qualities continue in Oplev’s film. With cinematography by Eric Kress and Jens Fischer (son of Bergman collaborator Gunnar Fischer), the film is given a cold look, with a palette full of blues and greens, which work in perfect tandem with its desolate narrative. Style-wise, the film reminds me of Icelandic film Mýrin/Jar City, with which it shares a similar palette and frozen landscapes, as well as a crime thriller narrative. In fact, most Scandinavian cinema seems to share a lot of these attributes and in recent years the likes of You, the Living and The Bothersome Man, have displayed the reasons why cinephiles are attracted to these films.
It’s not often ‘Art House’ cinema (especially that of the subtitled kind) crosses over into the mainstream, but with a fairly wide UK release The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to have done just that. Many would’ve thought the dark undertones of Oplev’s film would have scared off the mainstream audience, but it’s a movie so well-acted, so well constructed, it would be hard for anyone not to be hooked.