Set in Danish farm country so flat and drab it makes central Ohio look like the Matterhorn ride, Terribly Happy is a brisk, strange little slab of rural noir with a nasty streak a kilometer wide. It may not be the first locale you'd think of for a crime thriller loaded with burning passions, but the shotguns, muddy pickup trucks and cowboy hats are right out of a Coen brothers movie, albeit one with a whiff of herring.
Jakob Cedergren plays Robert, a policeman given a rehab assignment in a tiny village, after suffering an emotional meltdown in Copenhagen. At first glance this sleepy hamlet is the perfect tonic for his rattled nerves, but appearances make quick work of fools in pictures like this. Indeed something is rotten in Denmark (forgive me), and soon the marshal is hip deep in a domestic dispute as dirty as the thick bog nearby. The town's worst-kept secret is that brutish Jorgen regularly abuses his hot-tomato wife Ingeise (Lene Maria Christensen), and she wastes no time coming to the new guy for help, and a little more. He resists her advances for a while, but as is the way of all patsies, he succumbs, and things begin spiraling out of control. Pretty soon there's a murder, a cover-up, and the threat that even more bodies will vanish.
Director Henrick Ruben Genz handles all the twists and feints expertly, mounting tension, even when we see plot points coming. Terribly Happy is bleak and weirdly funny in its dry Scandinavian way, virtues that will surely be lost in translation when Hollywood inevitably remakes it, because no yarn this good remains a mystery for long.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.