Erik SkjoldbjærgNorway98 minutes2016ColourNorwegian
Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia) returns with this slow-burning psychological study about a young arsonist terrorizing a rural community.
Since his international breakthrough with Insomnia, Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg has skilfully used the thriller form to explore topics more troubling and relevant than those usually found in the genre. Nokas was a tense, brilliantly executed procedural about the biggest heist in the region's history; Pioneer examined the skullduggery around the birth of the Norwegian oil industry. Based on the prizewinning novel Before I Burn by Norwegian author Gaute Heivoll, Skjoldbjærg's latest, Pyromaniac, explores the mind of a young arsonist who plagues a rural community.
In the summer of 1981, 19-year-old Dag returns home to the little village of Finsland after a year of military service, where he is welcomed by his loving parents Alma and Ingemann. The proprietor of a small workshop, Ingemann is also the chief of the small volunteer fire brigade, and Dag cherishes his memories of going out with his father on calls when he was a child. When it becomes apparent that Dag is behind the series of mysterious blazes that have sprung up through the area, we assume that his actions are a misguided attempt to recreate that feeling of pride and community from his youth, as he becomes the de facto deputy fire chief when his father is felled by heart trouble. But gradually we realize that there is something far more sinister going on in his troubled mind.
Quietly demolishing the myth of the haven of rural life (it turns out people in the countryside can be as psychologically complex as any urbanite), Skjoldbjærg offers both an almost-clinical study of a sociopath and an empathetic portrait of a damaged loner — as well as of parents faced with the paralyzing realization that they may have raised a monster.
Interspersing its cool, ominously inexorable narrative with the simultaneously stunning and horrifying spectacle of Dag's blazes, Pyromaniac is a fascinating addition to Skjoldbjærg's already impressive resumé.