Monday, June 13, 2016

Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith

Scandinavia is known for its Calvinist piety and sexual permissiveness. It is the former that offends a particularly nasty serial killer. His murders are designed to take faith as well as lives. Carl Mørck lost his faith long ago and he doesn’t have much of a life, so he might be the perfectly flawed cop to stop the cruel predator in Hans Petter Moland’s A Question of Faith (trailer here), which opens as part of the entire Danish crime trilogy this Friday at the IFC Center.

Technically, the discovery of a kidnapping victim’s SOS in a bottle washed up on shore is not a cold case either, but everyone on the force recognizes it requires the sort of obsessive futility only Mørck can deliver. Unfortunately, he is only a shadow of his normally gaunt self. He has yet to bounce back from the tragic events of The Absent One, despite Assad’s best motivational efforts. Nonetheless, the Department Q coppers start following up, discovering the writer of the note is mostly likely a missing boy from a vaguely defined fundamentalist community.

They are ordinarily not inclined to talk to cops—a prejudice that works in favor of the kidnapper-murderer. Yet, through some dogged police work Mørck and Assad soon uncover his pattern. After months of ingratiating himself with the community and family, Johannes kidnaps two siblings, puts the family through the ransom-paying ordeal, only then forcing them to make a Sophie’s Choice. Inevitably, his crimes leave the parents bereft of faith, as well as a child.

When it comes to faith, the atheist Mørck is much closer to Johannes (a self-identifying Satanist) than the Muslim Assad. However, when the Department Q team starts closing in on the killer, Johannes decides to test the faith he mistakenly assumes Mørck holds.

Faith is by far the best of the Department Q trilogy and one of the best of the bumper crop of Scandinavia thrillers, easily surpassing the heavyweight champion Millennium (Girl Who) series. In this case, calling up Moland, who helmed the nifty, twisty In Order of Disappearance, pays considerable dividends. Faith is the tightest and tensest of the trilogy, but also the smartest and most mature. It deals with the issue of faith in the face of tribulations in a respectful manner. Frankly, this is a film the Evangelical community should embrace, because it clearly rejects the nihilism of Johannes.

For genre fans, the Christian-hating Johannes is also the massively evil villain the franchise has been waiting for. Pål Sverre Hagen (Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki and the archaeologist father in Ragnarok) plays spectacularly against time as the viciously calculating serial killer. He makes the audience pine for Biblical retribution. Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares continue to play off each other well, while Johanne Louise Schmidt and Søren Pilmark nicely flesh out the greater police force, as Rose, the Department Q assistant, and their captain, Jacobsen.

Faith pushes Mørck to even lower existential depths, but it pays off viewer investment in both the constituent film and the entire trilogy quite handsomely. For those who must prioritize their time, it should stand alone well enough and definitely represents the series high point. Enthusiastically recommended, Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith opens this Friday (6/17) in New York, at the IFC Center, along with The Absent One and Keeper of Lost Causes (separate admissions).