TV review: Fraught drama about a volcano erupting — I love it

There’s something warm and familiar about Scandi Noir at this stage, even when it seems to be pointing towards the end of the world
TV review: Fraught drama about a volcano erupting — I love it

Katla works because it is beautifully understated, focused on families trying to go about their daily lives as the world threatens to fall apart around them. 

Katla (Netflix) is fraught from the first frame. A wriggling hand covered in ash, a bit of tense cello, you’re not going to get much feel-good from this eight-part drama. But then a show about a remote Icelandic community living near a volatile volcano was never going to feel like Derry Girls.

My wife read the rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and decided to give it a fling. I sat the entire series out because I find it hard to watch disaster telly during Covid times. While she watched it, I read yet another book about D-Day, and experienced Katla as background mood — all cello and people speaking Icelandic, which isn’t exactly full of Mediterranean joie de vivre.

Then the other day my friend recommended it, and I decided to give it a go because the news is good on the Covid front and I could do with a decent bit of Scandi Noir. My wife has the hump because I followed his recommendation rather than hers and she probably has a point. Anyway, it’s apt that I’m watching Katla under a bit of a cloud.

'The plot unfolds at its own pace, almost invisibly, until you suddenly realise that you haven’t a clue what’s going on, in a good way' Picture: Lilja Jonsdottir.
'The plot unfolds at its own pace, almost invisibly, until you suddenly realise that you haven’t a clue what’s going on, in a good way' Picture: Lilja Jonsdottir.

It’s slow, but engagingly slow, as we learn the town of Vik is struggling after the eruption of a nearby volcano called Katla. So far, so disaster movie. Then an ash-covered woman walks in towards town, and they play a bit of Bjork. There is a suggestion that she materialised out of nowhere; they ramp up the cellos; a raven is introduced. I love it. There’s something warm and familiar about Scandi Noir at this stage, even when it seems to be pointing towards the end of the world.

The plot unfolds at its own pace, almost invisibly, until you suddenly realise that you haven’t a clue what’s going on, in a good way. A scientist discovers that the volcano is in a weird state, a Swedish woman is introduced to a younger version of herself on the phone, the raven rises from the dead, another character emerges from the ashes.

Katla works because it is beautifully understated, focused on families trying to go about their daily lives as the world threatens to fall apart around them. 

Grima is the pivot of the show, alongside her father, both of them grieving Grima’s sister who has gone missing. He seems to know the first ash-covered woman who emerged from the volcano and is obviously harbouring some kind of secret. 

'I don’t know what happens next, but I want to find out.' Picture: Lilja Jonsdottir.
'I don’t know what happens next, but I want to find out.' Picture: Lilja Jonsdottir.

A lot of tension in the show comes from friction between the characters rather than the worry that the volcano will finally finish them all off. It feels like an eerie play rather than a Hollywood disaster movie.

Anyway, I’m in. I don’t know what happens next, but I want to find out. Katla has a whiff of The Returned, the spooky French drama about kids coming back from the dead, and that was one of the best shows of the last decade.

It’s also timely and feels like the right show to watch on the week the UN announced that major climate change is inevitable. Give it a look.

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