A gentle Norwegian snowplow operator goes berserk in Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance. If you’re thinking that it’s because of the abundance of the white stuff in the small town of Tyos, you’re technically right—it’s just not the kind of white stuff that you need cleared from your driveway.
Nils (Stellan Skarsgård) has just won Citizen of the Year for his dedication to keeping his neighborhood’s roads passable. He’s somewhat uncomfortable about being honored for “something you enjoy doing.” But he gives a short speech anyway and enjoys the evening out with his wife, not knowing that it would be his last peaceful one for some time: The next day, the couple is told that their son is dead, killed by a drug overdose. “Ingvar was no drug addict,” Nils tells a cop. He’s convinced that his kid was murdered. And thus the titular disappearing begins.
Moland’s film is like the inverse of his 2010 offering, A Somewhat Gentle Man, also starring Skarsgård. (Kim Fupz Aakeson penned both.) In that story, Skarsgård played a gangster freshly released from jail, no longer interested in violence and wanting to patch things up with his son, who tells people his father is dead. Here, his Nils is equally stoic, but his desire to inflict harm on others suddenly skyrockets.
As Nils gets one name after another—each going up the chain of drug-dealer command—he goes full Death Wish, doing so with such remarkable ease that it’s necessary to seriously suspend disbelief. (Before his killing spree starts, Nils seems intent on offing himself, but it’s a fleeting moment that never resurfaces.) His choice of victims—specifically, well, the order of their disappearance—unintentionally escalates a gangster war between a Norwegian cartel led by the Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) and an “Albanian” one led by Papa (Bruno Ganz). One of the Count’s henchmen must constantly correct him: “They’re Serbs.”
It’s a running joke in this Tarantino imitation, along with snickers about Nils’ last name (Dickman) and philosophical theorizing about, for instance, how warm-weather countries don’t have welfare. The black humor isn’t front and center, though, which results in the jokes sometimes hitting awkwardly amid the brutal, bloody violence.
Nils himself disappears for a while as Moland chooses to focus on the true gangsters, and his wife is out of the picture as soon as the bloodletting begins. There are so many ne’er-do-wells stuffed into the film that they get confusing; Papa and his crew are late-chapter introductions, for one, and the faces become so interchangeable that an odd sub-sub-plot about two thugs who are having an affair gets lost entirely.
Moland somewhat humorlessly marks each death with black screens serving as grave markers, each adorned with a cross (or star of David) and the full names of the deceased. But neither the humor nor the drama are strong enough not to feel derivative. Even Tarantino’s go-to surf music is dispatched occasionally. Moland may have included it to pay homage, but it only serves to remind you that you’re watching a lesser movie than Pulp Fiction.
In Order of Disappearance opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.