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A Bad Case of the Blood Simples

MOVIE REVIEW
Terribly Happy (2008)

Terribly Happy 1
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Put the Coen brothers in Denmark, and they might come out with a film similar to “Terribly Happy.” An offbeat suspense thriller involving a corruptible policeman, a creepy insular town and a giant metaphoric bog, it’s made in precisely the sort of genre busting mode the brothers have perfected in everything from “Blood Simple” to “No Country for Old Men.”

But director Henrik Ruben Genz brings an assuredness that’s all his own to this blend of film noir, Western and horror-movie troupes, with fully realized characters engaged in a narrative that hits notes of bleak humor and unsettling terror. It’s a polished, entertaining affair that spins off in unexpected directions. At the same time, it introduces a new filmmaking voice to join Nicolas Winding Refn at the fore of accessible modern Danish cinema, suggesting a new wave could be afoot, one that rejects the austerity of Dogme 95 for the escapism of Hollywood.

After a controversy in Copenhagen, cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is banished to a remote small town in South Jutland that needs a new sheriff. In the middle of nowhere, with flat farm roads stretching to the horizon the only routes away, it’s populated by insular characters that don’t much care for newcomers. Only the married Ingerlise Buhl (Lene Maria Christensen) seems interested in the new sheriff; and in noir parlance, she’s “trouble on legs."

The story unfurls under gray skies, on shadowy nighttime streets and in back-lit dark rooms. The atmospheric bent lends the town a sinister, otherworldly feel that’s further enhanced by Hansen’s loner status and the fact that there’s nowhere for him to hide. Filling out the cast, Mr. Genz assembles a motley ensemble of worn faces, suspicious backwoods demeanor and strange, volatile personalities that behave as if possessed by some larger unifying force.

That might well be the sticky mire that lords over things, treated with the deference of a shrine by the villagers who use its vacuum-like powers as a cover for their own misdeeds. No symbol could better encapsulate the essence of “Terribly Happy,” the story of a man sucked into a world just beyond his understanding, with no way out of the mess.

TERRIBLY HAPPY

Opens on Feb. 5 in New York and on Feb. 12 in Los Angeles.

Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz; written by Gry Dunja Jensen and Mr. Genz, based on a novel by Erling Jepsen; director of photography, Jorgen Johansson; edited by Kasper Leick; produced by Thomas Gammeltoft and Tina Dalhoff; released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. In Danish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Jakob Cedergren (Robert), Lene Maria Christensen (Ingelise Buhl), Kim Bodnia (Jorgen Buhl), Lars Brygmann (Dr. Zerlang), Anders Hove (Kobmand Moos), Mathilde Maack (Dorthe) and Jens Jorn Spottag (Politimester).

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