Modus is familiar even before it begins. It’s an eight part Swedish crime drama shown on BBC4 in the Saturday 9pm slot usually reserved for foreign langauge drama. The credits are familiar again – a nod to the skyline of The Bridge and the grizzly but striking black and white body parts of Trapped. It’s a new tradition that dramas especially must have stylish opening credits, extra points for slow motion and an air of chilly bleakness.
So this is Christmas, in a snow-covered pine forest. A delightful Christmas card scene but it’s cold, lonely and frightening. Euro horror merchants the Brothers Grimm taught us from an early age that monsters live in the forest and they were right. In this case, in a caravan.
We meet the protagonist Inger Johanne Vik at her sister’s wedding at the Gloria Hotel. She gives her wedding speech in English because her new in-laws are American – handy for international viewers, and English crops up quite regularly in the first two episodes. A well-known TV chef is staying in the same hotel. She is stalked by our blank-faced baddie and brutally murdered. Inger Johanne’s autistic daughter Stina witnesses the murderer hiding the body and making good his escape. Strikingly the murderer has to save Stina from a car accident to keep up appearances; he’s not a bad dude – he’s just some guy in the street, honest! Quite a neat way to tie up the characters.
The nameless murderer is very clean-cut looking despite hiding out in an old-fashioned caravan in the forest. He’s definitely living close to nature – dinner is road-kill deer and his bathtub is a frozen lake – and off the grid, or as off the grid as you can be with an internet connection. His killings are probably at the behest of an American cult he seems to have connections with. He is sinister but not monstrous looking. He has an enormous tattoo of wings on his shoulder blades but doesn’t look like the sort of guy who collects tattoos. Maybe like his body art he keeps his crazy hidden. He seems to keep a collection of mobile phones (from his victims maybe?) and gets the location of his next target from picture messages. This lone wolf isn’t all that lonely.
Investigating is Ingvar Nymann, an extremely handsome divorced detective in the classic sad and brooding style. Not only is he divorced but he’s the father of a dead kid. I guess he probably drinks heavily too if we are to follow the stereotype to the expected conclusion. Handily Inger Johanne is also divorced (from her friendly but kinda stupid ex, the father of her children who she shares custody with). She was a profiler for the Swedish NBI and the American FBI. She’s given up all that unpleasant real life stuff and is now a Professor of Psychology (Ingvar says life must be less bloody now to which Inger Johanne replies “You don’t know academia”). She’s also busy plugging her new book on tv, which seems to be a real page-turner given the number of characters who say they’re going to read it. Ingvar seemed to read the weighty academic tomb in one night!
Everyone in the first two episodes seem to be in deeply unsatisfying relationships. I guess the newlyweds must be happy but resolutely they’re off-screen. Probably safer. We meet another couple who don’t seem to like each other very much – Elisabeth the progressive Bishop of Uppsala and her miserable husband Erik. There’s little joy in their house apart from a visit from their grandkids, despite them living in an actual palace. The extended family come to see Elisabeth do her Christmas day service and that same night she is killed by our spooky murderer in quite a different style. Her body is left out to be found whereas the tv chef is hidden in a basement area in busy hotel for days, which seems extremely unlikely. Worse still it’s her girlfriend who finds the body, not the police, as it takes ages for anyone to realise she’s missing. How sad.
Shifty husband Erik is dumping photos, paperwork and destroying his Elisabeth’s laptop. He’s being fully obstructive to the police who seem very slow in figuring out that he’s trouble. Erik has no time to waste. What secrets did the Bishop have? Has Sweden had issues with historical sex abuse and cover-ups in the church like so many other countries? Or is it to do with adoption or church schools? At this point, it could be anything.
There were promises that this series would steer clear of clichés. Well now, we’ve already got:
- stylised and graphic killings of women
- one lonely divorced detective
- disturbed teenage daughter rocking in bathtub who can’t speak and is having nightmares
- a killer inspired by religious cult who seems to be going after people with an association to the gay community, and who listens to classical music to psych himself up.
The flawed female lead is welcome, but not unusual these days. See The Killing, The Bridge and even back in the 90’s Prime Suspect.
The importance of and ever-present difficulties within families is a rich theme that we can all relate to. They might drive us crazy, but there’s a significant hole in our lives that they leave behind when they’re not around. The scenery is beautiful and there’s some nice Scandi interiors as you’d expect, but this feels more real, showing us messy family living rather than perfect show homes.
So far Modus isn’t really very original, but what it does it does well done. The performances are good and it’s extremely watchable. There are more than enough mysteries to keep you watching. Even though we know the killer’s face his identity and motivations are still a secret. Given enough time and space to think I’m confident Inger Johanne can get to the bottom of it.