Ever since Netflix’s German science-fiction thriller series, ‘Dark,’ became a sensation, many-an-audience started gravitating towards the genre online. For their benefit, the nature of such shows being commissioned for streaming has also gone up. When timed right, Nordic noir is just the perfect theme to sink your teeth into during the dark and gloomy autumn and winter seasons. It’s cold, unpleasant, and everything feels unnecessarily heavy. What better way to sit in than to watch some weird unsolved mysteries come to the fore?
What is the story about?
Set in Iceland, ‘Katla’ refers to the subglacial volcano of the same name in a small town south of Reykjavik. The violent eruptions of the glacier have caused much devastation over the last century, but for the same of creative liberty, our story revolves around the last one year since the melting ice has started to cause unforeseen consequences for the inhabitants for the nearby Vik village.
First, a naked woman emerges from a fissure of Katla, covered in soot and ash. The mystery is that this woman may or may not be someone who lived in the village 20 years ago and has since been in a different country, weirdly enough having not aged a day since then. The woman’s reappearance wreaks havoc in the lives of the village folk. Grima (Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð)’s marriage is already suffering due to deep emotional loss and mental stress. Thor (Ingvar Sigursson) gets a second chance at his unfulfilled desires. Local cop Gisli (Þorsteinn Bachmann), who is torn between his own desires, his ailing wife, and his staunch Catholicism. A couple who are separated and mourning the loss of their child, and finally, the staple noir character of hotelkeeper Bergrun (Guðrún Gísladóttir) who spouts urban legends and rural myths, and reads tarot and tea leaves in her spare time. Over the course of the next eight episodes, many more such people resurface. But it is evident that not all is as it seems.
‘Katla’ can't fit into the label of good, bad, or average, as much as it is a stunningly conceptualized piece of fiction with the most frustrating execution. “Glacial” is very well a way to describe the pacing of a show which centers around an icy volcano. The concept itself has loads of merit, fitting into the nature of the area’s socio-cultural history and how much folklore and myth play a part in how people’s values have been shaped. There are plenty of cliffhangers, literally at the end of every episode. There are questions and riddles that shape up in the audience’s mind as you watch, and perhaps that’s why you continue to watch. But the show doesn’t seem too interested in actually answering any of them. Spoiler alert: the show ends with an open ending which might be its biggest twist yet.
The makers have gone for the approach that each episode, timed between 40 and 50 minutes each, is less plot-heavy and more thought-heavy. The main story points of the season are briefly touched upon at the beginning and the end, and the rest of the episode is concentrated on developing ambiance and atmosphere… an eerie, dark, slow-burnish milieu that is synonymous with life in such a location.
This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however. Because the smatterings of twists seem like a poor concession in lieu of the story which really drones on in the middle parts. ‘Katla’ tries hard to become a deep character drama along with a mystery thriller but ends up just feeling really boring. It’s even more ridiculous that towards the end of the season, which is when the writers remember to get back to the main mystery -- who exactly are these strange people, why have they come back, and how are they related to Katla -- the explanation seems mostly implausible, and the motivations of the characters become more bizarre by the minute.
At least the actors do a great job in convincing us of these confusions and motivations. ‘Katla’ is extremely serious… almost sinister in places, and it takes some talent to convince us of the traumatic repercussions that years of living in such devastating circumstances could have.
Music & Other Departments
As mentioned before, the technical prowess of ‘Katla’ is really where it's at. Everything with regards to the sound and look of the show is impeccable and manages to convince you of its world, bizarre as it is.
‘Katla’ is a slow burn that is all about the tension that builds around a little town covered in ash, snow, and lava. The show really nails that atmospheric lull with creepy visuals, intense sound design, lush cinematography, and production design. The twists and turns are tense moments and there are enough to get you through the season.
It is just unfortunate that these moments aren’t timed properly and the shoddy editing doesn’t really help the already slow pacing of the show. The questions that one may have about the mystery of Katla may or may not get answered adequately and that’s bound to piss one off. If you expect to let them roll over to the next season, let’s hope that ‘Katla’ grabs enough eyeballs to actually get renewed in the first place.
Did I enjoy it?
‘Katla’ is compelling enough but it’s super tedious to binge through. I wish it was weekly.
Do I recommend it?
If the genre appeals to you, you could try to watch it in smaller sittings (perhaps the traditional one episode every few days?) and it might not be as bad.