The Absent One

“…the latest in a line of promising and highly-involving Scandinavian murder-mysteries.”

Danish detective Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) re-opens an investigation into the 20 year-old murder of twins after their retired police-officer father commits suicide. Guilt-ridden by the death of their father who had pleaded with Morck to investigate the cold case, revisiting old witnesses leads the detectives on the trail of Kimmie Lassen, a fellow student of the deceased, missing since the time of the murder.

Morck, barely cracking a smile, is a hardened sleuth in the best traditions of The Simpsons Rex Banner. His partner tells another officer that “Carl prefers working, that’s all,” with Morck intermittently forgetting things like family dinners or attending to his non-existent personal life.

Dark and violent in parts, The Absent One has all the hallmarks of typical Scandinavian thrillers and murder mysteries, most prolifically seen in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and its adaptations. It’s also the second part in its own trilogy, with 2013’s The Keeper of Lost Causes (also directed by The Absent One’s Mikkel Norgaard) the first in the series, and 2016’s A Conspiracy of Faith closing the adaptations of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s books. Similar to Larsson’s stories, an old murder/missing persons case unearths a series of other violent crimes, with the upper echelons of respectable society masking a much more violent and sadistic underworld filled with sexual exploitation, in this case implicating industry moguls and one of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools.

The Absent One is a consistently engaging thriller which manages to build momentum to a violent and intense conclusion. A scene in an alleyway where Morck comes face to face for the first time with a crucial piece of the case is notable in that it does not end the way fans of crime fiction typically expect, adding additional layers of complication and frustration to an already fraught investigation.

Despite a few narrative leaps and a lot of the detective work/reveals being told entirely through flashbacks, it is enjoyable to go along with Morck for much of the ride. The casual viewer gets the chance to discern much of the case along with the film’s protagonist, the mystery becoming less engaging on the few occasions when we get the full explanation of the past, leaving Morck to catch up and come to terms with all the goings-on.

A humourless, dark and taut thriller, The Absent One is the latest in a line of promising and highly-involving Scandinavian murder-mysteries, with Denmark, amongst Sweden and Norway, producing some of the best modern thrillers on offer.

The Absent One is screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival July 8-29.

On FilmInk