Terribly Happy shares the sensibility of Fargo and a few plot details with Hot Fuzz. Yet its familiarity is more of an homage, subtle enough to keep you from snoozing that you’ve seen the same package countless times before. Disappointment sets in only if you know that Henrik Ruben Genz’s noirish drama was Denmark’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film—there’s significant room between “solid” and “Oscar-worthy,” and Denmark’s entry tilts toward the former.
Based on an Erling Jespen novel (and allegedly true story), Terribly Happy centers on Robert (Jakob Cedergren), a Copenhagen police officer who commits an offense that estranges him from his wife and daughter and gets him reassigned, antidepressants in hand, to a quiet town in South Jutland. (One immediate quibble: Why do directors almost always have their characters pop pills while gazing into a mirror?) An opening voiceover speaks of the village bog that tends to swallow cattle. It seems an odd bit of information, at least until Robert is casually told by a citizen that the new bike shop manager has disappeared—“like people disappear here.” Throw in a doctor (Lars Brygmann) whose go-to treatment, even unsolicited, is sedation and the townsfolk’s blunt preference for vigilante justice, and it becomes clear that the law-abiding, soda-drinking Robert is not welcome here.
The stoic cop, resembling a sandy-haired Ben Affleck, probably wouldn’t care much if it weren’t for the flirtations of Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen), a pretty, married local whom everyone knows is physically abused by the town bully, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia). Robert is appalled by everyone’s silence and confused by Ingerlise’s refusal to leave or even file a complaint against Jorgen. His loneliness gets him more involved than he’d prefer, and then someone gets killed, which really gets the tongues of the village’s gossip guys wagging.
There’s no mystery in this thriller; we know who the killer is and how the murder went down. What drives the story is how Robert manages his increasingly hostile interactions with the people he’s sworn to protect and whether he can get himself back to Copenhagen. At 90 minutes, Terribly Happy moves swiftly and offers just enough creepiness and conflict to keep things interesting. It’s also good enough to have an English-language remake already in the works, which will also be directed by Genz.