The opening sequence of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 Norwegian thriller thrusts the audience into the frenzied attack of the young and unfortunate Tanja Lorentzen (Maria Mathiesen). During the opening titles, we witness the brutal attack from the perspective of the killer, seeing only his black-gloved hands, as his identity is kept as shrouded as his motive for murder.
Stellan Skarsgård stars as jaded police inspector Jonas Engström, who has been transferred to the Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service (Kripos) from Swedish law enforcement due to past indiscretions. He is flown to Tromsø, assigned with his older (and slightly feeble) partner Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal) to uncover the truth behind Tanja’s violent death. Before the plane lands, the pilot announces that they are passing the Arctic Circle and are bound for the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. And so the insomnia begins…
Jonas Engström’s plight is at the heart of the story. We see his undoubted brilliance as detective, as he quickly establishes the identity of the killer; but we also witness his grave carelessness in the line of duty, which ends in tragedy – ineptitude which the killer is intent on exploiting. Engström’s moral compass becomes dangerously aligned to that of the murderer, as he is torn between solving the case and keeping his mistake a secret.
Geir Jenssen’s score pulses the soundtrack with his trademark ‘Arctic ambience’ emulating an unearthly, celestial atmosphere. And the impact of the environment and the perpetual daylight on Engström is palpable throughout –sleep deprivation sends him into a state of inertia and semi-consciousness from which he is unable to escape.
As the film’s strapline suggests: “Den som synder, sover ikke”. He who sins, does not sleep.