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TRAPPED Is a Hot-Blooded, Bone-Chilling Prestige Mystery (Review)

In the frozen waters off a small town in northern Iceland, the fisherman have found something. You could call it a body, but it’s missing the head, the arms, and the legs, which has put the three-deep bench of police in a bind on the eve of a massive snowstorm. Fortunately, the big city detectives can’t get to town because the blizzard has shut down flights and roads, and as a fun bonus, the killer might be on the ferry that’s just arrived from Denmark, which means detaining a few hundred severely irritated travelers.

This is Trapped, an expertly crafted murder mystery with an added layer of frost. Created by veteran writer/director Baltasar Kormákur, it stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as the supremely bedraggled police chief juggling a heinous crime without resources, the political will of a glad-handed opportunist mayor (Pálmi Gestsson), and his ex-wife’s (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) officially replacing him with a serious boyfriend. Ólafsson is the business-like beating heart of this project, carrying its full weight on his broad, slumped shoulders. He seems to have gone to the Royal Brendan Gleeson Academy of Acting, carrying himself as gruff but not humorless. He’s direct and capable, but always presents himself as 10% dumber than he actually is.

With that foundation, Kormákur and company have built out an impressively dense mystery that doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel so much as violently deflate it under the crushing weight of tension-fueled, life-ruining subplots. Absolutely no one wants to cooperate with the investigation or support their local sheriff; almost everyone has a hidden agenda. There’s definitely some shady things going down in the white-out besides a vomit-inducing murder.

To be clear, Trapped is a traditional snowed-in mystery, but unlike Agatha Christie tales where everyone seems weirdly delighted to spend the weekend in a posh chalet with a murderer, everyone is tired and pissed off. The show brilliantly tosses in a ferry full of suspects, which means hundreds of breathing red herrings, as well as a Lithuanian human trafficker (Vytautas Narbutas), the Nigerian girls he was smuggling (Grace Achieng and Marta Quental), an obstinate ferry captain (Bjarne Henriksen), and his cagey engineer (Hans Tórgarð).

Trapped Season 1

The police also have to store the hacked-up torso in the fish factory freezer because–food inspectors be damned–where else are you going to put it? So you’ve got a dead person, a killer on the loose, an ice storm, hundreds of cranky tourists, and no cavalry comin’.

It’s at this point that things really start to go bad.

To say much more would give the game away, but consider that when things look bleak, they’re just about to get bleaker.

Yes, there’s an almost farcical level to how wrong everything goes once the avalanche really starts rolling down the mountain, but Trapped keeps a stoic face on at all times, reveling in the darkness of, say, Fargo, without succumbing to its cheery black silliness. Ólafsson wears it well with a calm, stubbly wisdom while looking constantly like he needs a big hug and a stiff drink.

What’s more, the added pounds of pressure are never taken for granted or sloughed off too easily. There’s real heft there, girded by scenery so outrageously beautiful that you might start to see your own breath in the comfort of your living room. It’s good for Icelandic tourism; even better for prestige drama fans. Far from crystallizing the feel of isolation, the camera places you inside a lived-in desolation, increasing the typical stakes by consistently reminding you that all the picturesque houses in the valley have their own survival stories brewing behind closed doors.

There’s a warm sense of doom hanging over the town in Trapped, where everyone’s best laid plans seem to crumble and crack, and that personalized air of tragedy mirrors the mystery of an unidentifiable body (a literal nobody) turning up on the worst possible afternoon. It’s a story about the lives that hang in this delicate balance, as well as a a thriller that stirs up the ingredients of a classic recipe to delicious near-perfection.

It demands attention, but be warned that if you watch the first episode, you’re as good as committing another nine binge-style hours of your life to it.

Trapped premieres Sunday, February 19th at 10p.m. EST. on VICELAND

4 out of 5 headless burritos


So who wants to go to Iceland and solve a crime? Don’t freeze us out in the comments section.

Images: Viceland/Weinstein Television

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