Review: ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is Much More Than Your Typical Whodunit

The eight-part whodunit series, created by Thordur Palsson, not only marks Netflix’s solid debut in Iceland, it is also a big win for the streaming giant in terms of the quality of its content. ‘The Valhalla Murders’ is a riveting whodunit surrounding Iceland’s first serial killings, and is bound to keep you hooked to your screens for eight hours straight.

Several of the initial twists in the series are more or less predictable. But only because they are meant to be, as they are revealed within the first half of the series. ‘The Valhalla Murders’ takes its time without every being dull as it has so much to offer. While the series may start out slow, it definitely rewards your patience with the tension it builds with each episode. And just when you think you have got it all figured out, it takes you in a completely different direction. SPOILERS ALERT!

‘The Valhalla Murders’ Recap:

The series begins with a gruesome murder that takes place at Rekjavik’s harbor, where an old man is brutally stabbed multiple times, and has his eyes cut off. But when a similar murder takes place soon after the first, officer Kata Eligsson (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir), who is in charge, realizes that Iceland has its first serial killer on the loose. Officer Arnar (Björn Thors) is called back to Iceland from Oslo investigate the serial killings. The duo investigate the killings as another murder emerges, all of which lead them to Valhalla, an abandoned boys’ home.

As Kata and Arnar dig deeper, they realize the connection all four victims have to a particular photograph which links them to Valhalla. Further investigation reveals the brutalities that occurred inside the walls of the mysterious building in 1980s. This eventually connects to a 30-year-old cold case where a young boy’s skeleton was discovered. The victims of the current serial killings are all staff members of the house who abused the young boys. It is then revealed the kids were also raped regularly by an unknown man.

As the series progresses, the serial killer is revealed to be the dead boy’s father, who killed the staff members to avenge his son’s death. But Arnar and Kata soon learn of several odd inconsistencies in one of the murders and decide to reopen the case. The new information takes them on a dark path filled with shocking revelations that could jeopardize their careers, and their lives.

‘The Valhalla Murders’ Review:

‘The Valhalla Murders’ offers you exactly what you expect it to, only to slowly and steadily blow your mind with its final twists. The series manages to be gripping despite being a slow-burn. There is never a dull moment in the show, even with its several subplots. In fact, for a change, the subplots actually enhance the tension in the series, and elevate it by connecting wonderfully to the larger themes it explores. And it is definitely these themes that turn ‘The Valhalla Murders’ into much more than your typical whodunit.

Broken families and child abuse is a recurring theme in the series, which it manages to portray with a sense of compassion. Arnar has to deal with his own abusive past when he returns to Iceland, while Kata struggles with her relationship with her son, Kari. The series looks at the magnitude of child abuse with its explorations of the victims and survivors, both from Valhalla, and what followed.

‘The Valhalla Murder’ also boasts of powerful performances from its cast which further elevates the show. Not only does the series offer us two strong, flawed but loveable leads. It also manages to make us feel for several of its minor characters. I also particularly appreciated the subtlety with which the series explores its various sub-plots. One example of this is a tiny moment towards the second-half of the show where the audience realizes Arnar is gay.

It is played out briefly, and at a later part in the series. This gains relevance as the audience has already formed an opinion about Arnar way before the revelation. His homosexuality, then, only becomes one of the many aspects of his personality. Never the first thing one would think of while describing Arnar’s character. It also quietly adds to his backstory which is filled with childhood trauma and ostracization from both his family and church.

Kata’s relationship with her mother and son is also portrayed in a similar manner. Once again, similarly, it becomes relevant that Magnus begins fostering young boys after his involvement in Tommi’s disappearance, which could have been part of his guilt. None of this ever overtly stated but it still manages to add to the larger narrative of the series.

Interestingly, Iceland’s landscapes and climate add to the serial killing mystery. The cinematography makes use of the vastness of Iceland’s snow and the dullness of its sky with a relatively muted palette, bringing out a sense of foreboding.

As a whodunit, ‘The Valhalla Murders’ works brilliantly well as it successfully throws you in different directions after every episode. Also, for a series that involves so many characters and subplots, it manages to not be muddled. It is, in fact, quite smooth with the way it tightly ties up all its loose ends, despite the complex web it weaves. The series is certainly one of the strongest foreign-language series I have watched on Netflix in a while, and even better than some of its recent content in English.

Read More: Will There Be More of ‘The Valhalla Murders’