As a huge fan of husband-and-wife team Lars Kepler’s astonishingly good debut novel, I was excited to see how it would translate to screen.
Unfortunately, the film had a lot to live up to, being touted by many (including FrightFest when it screened at the festival last year), as the new Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The novel stands tall next to its Scandinavian sister. However, the film only suffers in comparison, the mousey librarian next to its wild, punky sibling.
The film opens in a similar vein to the book. CID’s Detective Inspector Joona Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) is called to two crime scenes – the murder of a teacher in a sports hall, and the annihilation of a little girl and her mother, the brother left comatose after a vicious stabbing (Jonatan Bökman). The murders are related as the teacher is the father of the murdered child.
At the hospital, anxious to solve the murder for the sake of the surviving boy, Det Insp Linna begs trauma expert, and disgraced hypnotist, the fantastically monikered Erik Bark (Mikael Persbrandt), to try to break through the coma to uncover what the boy has witnessed.
Meanwhile, Linna discovers the boy has a sister who is still alive but off the radar and, believing she is set for slaughter, he sets off to search for her and uncover the seeming vendetta against the family.
Bark has his own problems to contend with; chronic insomnia, a suspicious wife (Lena Olin) who wants a break from the relationship, a haemophiliac son (Oscar Pettersson) who’s affected by his parents’ problematic marriage.
And the focus is almost exclusively on the Bark family. For example, there is a nicely executed scene straight from the book where a hooded figure emerges from the shadows and steals away the son after drugging the mother. Bark Senior has already unwittingly aided him by taking sleeping tablets, rendering him out cold. The film follows the hunt for the missing boy.
There were a few complex, even controversial, plotlines in the novel which unfortunately director Lasse Hallstrom wasn’t brave enough to tackle, such as the legacy of child abuse, which is a central tenet of the book. It is only touched upon in the film with the questioning of one of Erik’s former patients, Evert Braun.
As Hallstrom has a reputation for making sentimental films (Chocolat, Safe Haven, Dear John), maybe he found the grittiness and controversy too far a departure from his usual oeuvre. This can be backed up by the fact he seems to have culled the enigmatic and complex Linna down from his starring role in the book to a mere side man, in favour of the titular hypnotist and his family, focusing more on their emotional problems and family issues. This is a shame (especially as I was hopeful there would be more sequels featuring Linna, just like the books) and especially as such a lot of the story has been culled with him. No more a Dirty Harry type, he has been castrated into a mere PC Plod.
The film’s drab traditional, stereotypical bleached Swedish noir imagery is lit in practically every scene with shots of light smearing through the shadowy soft focus; from the opening sun just breaking through the clouds over a stark city landscape, and later sunbeams reminiscent of spotlights aiding a police search, through to fairy lights, and the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabra.
What does this leitmotif mean? The light of hope shining through the dark, dirty murders, the truth emerging from lies, awareness versus catatonia – or just the light at the end of a dull tunnel..? Like the murkiness of the imagery, the leitmotif seems rather obscure as well, obfuscated by the plot twists that have been prematurely strangled, aborted in their prime.
As the last third has been slashed to pieces, and the thrilling finale re-envisaged and also truncated, the ending rushes up to you after a rather slow middle, and is over before you know it.
So much of the book’s interwoven plots and background are edited, as well as many supporting characters. In fact, the only real viciousness, apart from the brief, frenzied scenes of murder, is the culling of the script and Linna’s character.
However, I still think the film has enough to sustain it and I’d almost recommend you only watch it if you haven’t read the book. Though it’s hard to warm to the movie version of Linna (who is confusingly similar looking to Bark), the kid is cinematically endowed with Swedish blond cuteness and you do develop a relationship with the family, and care what happens to them.
There are also problems with the subtitling, like it has been rushed out without being checked, which is unlikely as it has been over a year since its Swedish theatrical release.
The Swedish title is Hypnotisoren and, seeing as there were so many spelling errors in the subtitles, I’m rather surprised Hypnotisnoren didn’t appear in large letters across the screen. It would have been more appropriate, given the circumstances.