In Order of Disappearance (2014)

In Order of Disappearance (2014)“If Norwegian kids disappear, there’s always some obnoxious parent out looking for them.”

The “Norwegian kid” of In Order of Disappearance is one Ingvar Dickman, an airport employee who meets a grisly end after getting on the wrong side of a gang of drug dealers. The “obnoxious parent” is his father, Nils (Stellan Skarsgård): Citizen of the Year, well-liked snow plough operator, surprisingly good with both his fists and his rifle. After learning that his son’s apparent overdose was in fact murder, Nils wastes no time hunting down the gangsters responsible and ‘disappearing’ them by tossing their chicken-wired-encased bodies over a waterfall.

This is a fairly convention revenge film so far, the specifics of the plot – Nils systematic ascent up the bad guy food chain – reminding me of Man on Fire in particular. And when it comes to story, In Order of Disappearance doesn’t expend a lot of effort distinguishing itself from the genre. Bad guys are murdered, good guys are implicated, a rival group of [Serbian] gangsters enter the fray, and we are left with a reflection on the futility and cyclical nature of patriarchal violence (there are almost no women of import in the film, an intentional and understandable decision).

Thankfully, In Order of Disappearance distinguishes itself from its neighbours in the genre in at least a couple respects (not that I have any complains with a well-executed, by-the-book revenge flick, mind you). Rather than the gritty, grimy tone endemic to the genre, there’s a lightness, a drollness to Hans Petter Moland’s film. The chief baddie – a weedy looking weirdo nicknamed “Greven” (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) – is a devoted vegan who chides his underlings if his preteen son doesn’t get his five serves of organic fruit and vegetables every day. When Nils accosts a gangster who goes by the name of “Strike” (Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones), the two burst into exhausted giggles…right before Nils puts a bullet through his head.

This deadpan black comedy keeps your interest throughout, even if the characters are too unsympathetic – and prone to ugly racist rants – for you to really laugh. The tone recalls Fargo, In Bruges, Reservoir Dogs and Slaughterhouse-Five (the latter in particular: every death in the film – and there’re a lot of them – is accompanied with an intertitle that reminded me of Vonnegut’s “and so it goes.”). It’s not an easy job to balance the macabre and the comedic, and In Order of Disappearance does so remarkably well.

It’s equally hard not to think of Fargo watching cinematographer Philip Øgaard’s crisp photography, which rival Deakins work on that film for clarity and beauty. There are some gorgeous shots of the Norwegian landscape, but they’re not merely pretty: the sight of Nils’ snow-plough amidst an infinite expanse of white and the clouds of falling snow that spray from the plough itself each suggest the obscuring of justice and the immensity of Nils’ task. In Order of Disappearance doesn’t revolutionise the revenge film formula, but it is an excellent iteration of the genre.

3.5 stars

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