At Least It Cuts a Good Trailer

02/05/2010 4:00 AM |

Terribly Happy
Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz

“Based on actual events,” Terribly Happy follows Robert (Jakob Cedergren), a cop from Cop[enhagen] out of water, and at loggerheads with the locals, in the Danish countryside-town to which he has been relocated. Oh, so it’s like Hot Fuzz? Right, except it’s not funny (critics have been calling it “darkly comic” because they think that’s a synonym for “Scandinavian”). Oh, then it’s like Sleepy Hollow? Well, yeah, except it isn’t scary. Then, like a Coen Brothers movie (isn’t Fargo essentially a Scandinavian movie?)? What, with all the weirdoes that occupy the margins; or a David Lynch movie, with its anxious edge of malformation and menace? Yes, it’s an insubstantial imitation of all of those—and more! It feels terribly 90s, when such half-considered emulations arrived with frequency, as though you should be renting it on VHS—or taping it off pre-Queer Eye Bravo—because you saw a preview for it before whatever Miramax misfire you’d misguidedly rented the day before.

Terribly Happy is a classic “cuts a good trailer” movie. It’s full of sharply directed moments—a shoed foot rocking on a patch of carpet that oozes blood (Poevian! Sorta)—and memorable images, like a cat nuzzling the nozzle of a gun. But in full, the film toggles between shots of textural beauty and digital crudeness. A simmering noir that never boils, it finds Robert caught in the middle of an unwholesome marriage in which the man is abusing the woman, or maybe vice versa; Robert is a Good Cop soon corrupted by a small town, its femme fatale, and its residents—provincial, perpetually smoking grotesques, each with a violent streak and a habit of trying to bury unwanted elements in the local bog. It’s not long before he goes from a straight-edged man of morals, on the run from his own domestic-troubles past, to a child-smacking murderer and cover-up conspirator, who sucks down beers at the local pub (he ain’t the “fag” the locals initially took him for); with the hyperlocal, protectivist fervor the natives demand, he begins to favor “settling things ourselves”. He’s also not taking “his pills,” and the cat’s talking to him.

The place, nothing but “mud, cows and rubber boots,” literally swallows its transgressors in that bog, obscuring the lurking evils that are—again, literally—right below its surface. As such, the town (which evokes Gervais’ Slough through a lens sinister, especially early on) begins to look like a deity: all-knowing, dispassionate, judgmental and strange-justice-meting, with a way of conscripting visitors into its service. But it’s hard to see what director Genz is getting at: if this is a character portrait or a setting sketch, both are half-realized; it’s weird but not eerie, strange but not surreal, moody but never on edge. (And a strain of sleepy guitar rock continuously intrudes, a bad habit picked up from the film’s quirky American brethren.) Any amassed tension peters off; its atmosphere is entirely superficial. Ultimately, it’s a slight exercise in showing off one’s influences without a solid understanding of what makes those artworks and artists influential to begin with. Fargo inspired Terribly Happy; Terribly Happy will inspire nothing.

Opens February 5