Sometimes a series has all the ingredients to be a success. At the new Icelandic mystery thriller Katla that seems to be the case. Originality, check. Mysterious events leading to personal drama, check. Beautiful images of desolate Scandinavian landscapes, check. It is therefore extra tragic that the end result is not a successful one slow burn but mostly just slow.
Katla is an Icelandic volcano that has been erupting continuously for a year. Main character Gríma lost her sister Ása in the first eruption. Although the volcano village of Vik has been largely evacuated except for scientists and emergency services, Gríma stays there to look for her sister. When Katla starts spewing out people who have disappeared in addition to smoke and ashes, the mystery that disrupts the small Vik community begins.
The riddle on which Katla is centered hardly gets nail-bitingly exciting and rarely does the viewer wonder what will happen after all. A mystery series can benefit from ambiguity and unanswered questions, but Katla goes too far to the other extreme. Then you get characters who don’t ask obvious questions and you get a lot of disappointment when finally (something) more becomes clear about the cause of the mysterious apparitions.
Some drone shots are nice advertisements for Iceland that just switched to code green, but they are not from Planet Earth-level. The acting is good, but fades when the dialogues switch (completely unnecessary) to English. The series raises some provocative questions about which version of ourselves we want to be and how unconditional love really is, but otherwise excels in missed opportunities.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 23, 2021