Arts movie review

A darkly comedic twist on the revenge genre

Swedish action thriller finally debuts in American theaters

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Stellan Skarsgård in In Order of Disappearance, a Magnet Release.
Magnet Releasing

In Order of Disappearance
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Starring Stellan Skarsgård
Rated R
Now Playing

Action movies seem to be increasingly flashy, explosive, mind-blowing, or all of the above. Of course, there’s a need for movies to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, but it’s tiresome to watch films seemingly compete for the highest combined number of plot twists and big explosions.

The Swedish film, In Order of Disappearance, does not even get close to the qualifying round of that contest though. Instead, the film’s unique twist on an action thriller involves combining “humor” with brutal, brutal violence. Though the film was released in Sweden in 2014, it’s finally making its way into select U.S. theaters almost three years later.

The film revolves around Norwegian snowplow driver Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård), who finds out that his son died of a supposed drug overdose. After discovering that his son was actually murdered by local drug dealers, he begins killing his way through the chain of command that is topped by the gang’s spoiled leader named the Count (Pål Sverre Hagen).

Skarsgård’s performance as a model citizen turned vengeful father is sharp and deliberate, while Hagen’s portrayal of an exaggeratedly melodramatic drug lord is hilariously perfect. “I was playing my character very down-to-earthy,” Skarsgård explained in an interview with The Tech. “But I was surrounded by characters who were very over-the-top. I had to make sure I kept my reality and didn’t go over-the-top myself.”

But because the film lacks a strong driving force in plot (other than a straightforward revenge scenario), sections of the film feel sluggishly drawn out. Especially for those looking for quick entertainment, the scenes with more staring than talking will get your fingers anxiously tapping for something to move along.

Branded as a “dark comedy,” the film leans heavily on the genre’s first word, but scatters subtle pockets of chuckles at incredibly random moments throughout. When Nils and his wife are identifying their son at the morgue, the somber moment is interrupted by a worker squeakily pumping the gurney’s pedal to adjust its height — and it continues for enough seconds that you just have to crack a smile. And why not also have the head honcho villain own a bakery shop in addition to his drug empire?

“This film was such a mixture of genres and tonalities,” Skarsgård explained. “A lot of the balance between humor and comedy was [Director] Hans Petter’s work in the editing. In the first killing that my character does, it was important that we knew the audience would say at the first hit, ‘Yeah.’ When I hit him the second time, they still liked it. But it was important that [the hitting] continued so long that it became a little unpleasant. And after that, we established that the violence was something [audiences] wanted to see, but was, at the same time, questionable.”

Overall, I would have appreciated a more substantial plot in In Order of Disappearance, but the unique combination of ruthless revenge and dark humor made for an interesting two-hour experience.

In Order of Disappearance is now playing at the Kendall Square Cinema.