IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a bracingly original foray into very black humor. Set in the arctic-lite of rural Norway, it is a tale of relentless pursuit, clueless hubris, and the eccentricities that long winters provoke in the population. Writer Kim Fupz Aakeson and director Hans Petter Moland serve up this arch film about fathers and sons with a wry sense of hyperbole grounded in the superbly understated performance by Stellan Skarsgård that is as ferociously focused as his character’s obsessive need for revenge.
He’s Nils Dickman, an immigrant from Sweden who is being honored as citizen of the year in his small town where he has settled and made a rewarding, if unremarkable, life for himself as the official snow-plow operator, and as a doting husband and father. All that changes when his only child is found dead from an overdose, and the police all but laugh him out of the station when he asserts that his son did not do drugs, and then demands that there be an investigation. The cavalier dismissal triggers something in Nils. Something dark. Something bloodthirsty and fearless, a dangerous combination, as the drug kingpin of that part of Norway is going to find out the hard way. Told with the deliberate pacing of a procedural, but the tension of a thriller, and the sensibility of a farce, the story follows Nils as he starts at the bottom of the drug world ladder and slowly but inexorably works his way up by slaughtering his way through the chain of command.
Skarsgård, with his rumpled and unassuming air presents the affable face of doom to his victims, surprising them, and us, with the both the viciousness of his attacks, and the complete ruthlessness as blood spews and victims scream until the give up the information for which Nils has come. On the other end of that ladder is Greven aka The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen), the supercilious dandy who inherited the drug operation from his much tougher father. He own obsession about micro-managing his coddled son (Jack Sødahl Moland), an acrimonious relationship with his flinty ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) who inevitably shows up at the worst possible moment, and a ruthlessly no-nonsense way of handling things that doesn’t allow for second-guessing. As Nils closes in on the Greven, the latter at first fails to comprehend what is happening when his people start turning up dead, and then jumps to the wrong, if logical, conclusion, which succeeds in making things worse. Where Nils is methodical, Greven is mercurial, Hagan chewing the scenery with refreshing gusto that only reinforces Greven’s psychopathy. As does Greven’s unnerving taste in home décor and his scrupulous tidiness when it comes to murder.
Things are done with snow plows that are fanciful and deeply disturbing. That’s the sort of film this is, where any moment can be the last, and where a reunion between the estranged Dickman brothers is poignant, in that subdued Nordic way, and entirely ludicrous. A confrontation between ex-spouses, as Greven soaks in a bathtub pondering where it all went wrong, is the stuff of pure farce, while the meeting between Greven’s representative, and that the head of the Serbian mob (Bruno Ganz in a sly turn), is a study of pure suspense that starts in carefully composed horror and goes from there.
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE exhibits a deadpan and scintillatingly savage whimsy where even the most minor of characters are sharply drawn as they negotiate life, death, and dumb luck. Brutal, playful, and counterintuitively insightful about the pull of family, this is a rare gem that will leave audiences gratefully gasping.