October 1, 2011

Reader's Choice: Terribly Happy (2008)

Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. Starring Jakob Cedergren ("Robert"), Lena Maria Christensen ("Ingelise Buhl"), Kim Bodnia ("Jørgen Buhl"), and Lars Brygmann ("Dr. Zerlang"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Oscilloscope)
Running time: 01:43:47
Country: Denmark

Picked by Matt-suzaka

Following a bizarre monologue about a calf that was born with two heads - one of them being that of a human - a title card informs us that this film is based on actual events. I have a hard time believing films these days that claim to be based on "truth", but in the case of the Danish-language TERRIBLY HAPPY, it could be a general statement. The film takes place in an isolated rural town with a population in the low double digits, and within the walls of the homes and establishments of this town are a number of dark secrets that our lead character will learn through unfortunate circumstances. Occupying the town are an interesting group of stubborn locals who abide by their own secretive way of doing things. The scariest thing about this film is the understanding that this town is everywhere in the world.

Robert is a cop from Copenhagen who, because of some drama with his estranged wife and daughter, is reassigned to the small town of Skarrild. You ever see those movies where it seems like the cop character in the movie is the only cop in whatever town the film takes place in? Well, in this case, Robert is literally the only cop in town. His day starts when the phone rings and ends when everyone's asleep. Among the strange characters he meets are a mysterious, ghostly little girl, a troubled housewife named Igelise, and her abusive husband, Jørgen (played by an almost unrecognizable Kim Bodnia from PUSHER). Robert's basically thrown into an awkward situation involving the married couple, whose domesticity is anything but blissful. The locals keep quiet and mind their own business. As the film goes on, the culture-shocked, by-the-book cop tries to do the right thing and help, but falls into the traps of the town and slowly becomes just as deranged as the people who live there.

I know the above synopsis doesn't really say much, but it's best to keep my mouth shut, just like the locals in the film. Something unexpected happens in the middle of the film that shakes things up in a big way, and, from that point, things slowly spiral out of control and get weirder. And weirder. Like, talking cat weirder. At the same time, it's not a very complicated, plot-heavy film. There's a story here, but to me it's more of an exercise in filmmaking. Phenomenal sound design and damn near masterful camera work are on full display here. Based on a novel by Erling Jepsen (a childhood friend of the film's director), TERRIBLY HAPPY, to me, is like a cross between WINTER'S BONE and FARGO, with a little bit of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn thrown in. It's not an entertaining or quirky film, nor is it overly grim and depressing; it's a quiet and unrelentingly tense film that builds up to a clever, twisted, and ironic ending equal to a kick in the balls.

Score: 8


  1. I really loved this film and I think you hit it on the head by saying that it's not entertaining or quirky, nor is it overly grim and depressing. It's somewhere in the middle, and to be able to play in that realm is difficult to pull off. It reminded me a bit of a Cohen brothers movie but never felt like it was trying to be a Cohen brothers movie. Glad you dug it, homie!

  2. I loved this movie, Matt. I probably wouldn't have watched it if you hadn't picked it, mainly because I never even heard of it. So thanks! And yeah, I definitely got the Coen Brothers vibe from this, but only slightly.