Whether drawing on ancient folklore or contemporary themes, Nordic genre films are enjoying a boom time. Screen explores the global attraction of Scandi scarefests and what’s coming next.

'The Twin'

Source: Don Films / Marin Sild / Jones Lehtonen

‘The Twin’

Finnish psychological horror film The Twin — set in Finland but in the English language — has racked up nearly a million admissions around the world (including 300,000 in Mexico alone), with a further 33 countries set to release theatrically. 

“It’s an incredible Finnish export success, and was overwhelmingly the most watched Finnish film outside of Finland in 2022,” says Don Films producer Aleksi Hyvarinen, who had a previous genre hit with Lake Bodom. Inter­national sales on The Twin, directed by Taneli Mustonen and starring Teresa Palmer, were handled by Film Constellation; RLJE Films launched the theatrical release in North America alongside a day-and-date streaming premiere with Shudder, which also picked up UK/Ireland rights.

In late April, Lionsgate launched Finnish action thriller Sisu, about a Nazi-killing gold prospector, in the US on 1,006 screens -the widest-ever US launch for a Nordic film, with a solid performance of $3.3m on its opening weekend.

These are just two signs the world has woken up to (and might be awake all night because of) Nordic genre films. Among the images burned into the minds of global audiences are the emergence of a creepy bird-like creature in Finland’s Hatching; a half sheep/half human child in Iceland’s Lamb; and the stoning to death of a married couple in Denmark’s Speak No Evil.

“The past 18 months have been superb internationally for Nordic genre films, with Speak No EvilHatchingThe TwinNightmare and Sisu travelling well internationally,” says Mikko Aromaa, director of Helsinki’s Night Visions Film Festival and one of the partners in the promotional collective Nordic Genre Invasion. “These films are crossing over, not just playing at genre festivals.” (Speak No Evil launched at Sundance 2022, Sisu at Toronto 2022 and Lamb at Cannes 2021.)

REinvent’s sales and marketing director Helene Aurø sells prestige dramas, such as Lukas Moodysson’s hotly anticipated Together 99, but the company has also launched a growing genre label, REinvent Chills. “When we hear a pitch or read a script, we want something a little bit more that makes it different — we need that X factor; we would never just do a splatter film,” she explains of the genre films REinvent adds to its slate, which currently includes The Angel Maker (see sidebar), Cychosis and Dark Windows.

Aurø adds that Nordic thrillers have strong sales appeal globally. “A lot of buyers have slots for them, or can find an audience either in cine­mas or streaming,” she says. “And we know it’s a good way to reach a younger audience.”

Funders take note 

Thanks to initiatives such as the Nordic Genre Boost (now closed) and Nordic Genre Invasion, “for the past 15 years people have woken up to the international demand for this content”, Aromaa says. “You hope this leads bigger players and the public financiers to take genre more seriously. We said it for the first Iron Sky (2012) and the first Dead Snow (2009). It feels like fingers are always crossed, but now we at least have substantial proof these films work.”

Norwegian writer/director Kjersti Helen Rasmussen had an international hit this year with Nightmare. “Ten years ago it was almost impossible to get this kind of support for genre films — that’s globally, not just in Scandinavia,” she says. “But the film institutes in Scandinavia are certainly incorporating more genre.” 

Liselott Forsman, CEO of Nordisk Film & TV Fond, which is backed by the Nordic film institutes alongside private funders, says she is impressed by the way Nordic genre films “mix psychology with horror, and go a little bit deeper… The new genre films can mix suspense, horror, psychology — they are not so predictable. We see a lot of new cinematic expressions coming through in the applications we get.” 

Genre encompasses more than horror films, though: other notable recent productions include thrillers such as Darkland: The Return and sci-fi stories UFO Sweden, AniaraSuper­position and the upcoming Eternal. Norway has made a name for itself with disaster epics The WaveThe QuakeThe North Sea and the forthcoming Convoy

Icelandic filmmaker Erlingur Thoroddsen directed Rift and is now in post on his latest feature Cold, which he calls a “thriller with some horror elements”. Thoroddsen agrees that the public funders are understanding the genre landscape more than before. “There is proof that there’s enough quality in horror films and genre films that you don’t have to look at them as black sheep,” he says.

Jacob Jarek of Denmark’s Profile Pictures was the producer of Ali Abbasi’s debut horror feature Shelley, as well as Christian Tafdrup’s 2022 buzz hit Speak No Evil (now being remade in the US by Blumhouse). “It’s about the story and the director,” says Jarek on gaining traction for genre films, especially with public funders. “It needs to come from a really interesting creative place.”

While Speak No Evil has some dark moments, he adds, “People are running away from hopeless stories, but because it’s genre there’s a sense of escapism to it. It’s not a bleak drama. Genre films can be more adventurous — you deliver on that escapism.”

Norway’s Hanne Berkaak will pitch her animated folk horror Pesta in the Marché’s Frontieres platform. She says the international attention on Nordic genre films “can maybe be traced back to a longstanding fascination with the north as a realm of the supernatural — extraterrestrial creatures, witchcraft and people with supernatural abilities. The vast, barren landscape untouched by man and the cold, unforgiving climate make for the perfect backdrop for horror, mystery and murder.” 

Set during the Black Plague, Pesta takes its title from a witch-like creature from local folklore — myths and legends pop up frequently in Nordic genre films. 

Rasmussen’s next feature, which she hopes to shoot in summer 2024, will tell the story of an inter­national commune that sets up on a remote Norwegian island. “It’s a modern film, but I’m bringing back old rituals from the Vikings; I’m exploring these ancestors,” she says.

Rasmussen agrees that genre is the perfect wrapper for filmmakers to delve into important themes — like she did with women’s roles in modern society in Nightmare and in the upcoming feature. “I have some things I want to say about being a young female today and I try to incorporate those ideas,” she says. “It’s nice with genre films you can go a bit further than in dramas with the opinions you have about the world.”

Hot projects: Nordic genre titles


Source: Julia Torjak / Mikrofilm


The Angel Maker (Den)

Dirs. Esben Tonnesen, Julie R Olgaard
A “brutal psychological thriller” about a cybercrime detective hunting for a serial killer. REinvent holds a market screening in Cannes.
Contact: Helene Aurø, REinvent 

Carousel (Swe)

Dir. Simon Sandquist
A buzzy young cast including Omar Rudberg (Young Royals) play high-school friends trying to survive an overnight visit to an amusement park.
Contact: Nicolai Korsgaard, TrustNordisk

Cold (Ice)

Dir. Erlingur Thoroddsen
This story about an investigation into deaths at a juvenile home is adapted from the bestselling novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
Contact: Debra Liang, LevelK

Handling The Undead (Nor)

Dir. Thea Hvistendahl
This drama horror starring Renate Reinsve (The Worst Person In The World) is adapted from a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist. In post.
Contact: Nicolai Korsgaard, TrustNordisk 

Hunters (Swe)

Dir. Sarah Gyllenstierna
Magnus Krepper, Ardalan Esmaili and Jens Hulten star as three men whose hunting trip in the Swedish woods goes awry.
Contact: Debra Liang, LevelK 

Nightborn (Fin)

Dir. Hanna Bergholm
Hatching director Bergholm and writer Ilja Rautsi are in development — to shoot next year — on this “dark horror fantasy” about a couple struggling with new parenthood.
Contact: Noémie Devide, Goodfellas 

Pesta (Nor)

Dir. Hanne Berkaak
This animated folk horror is about four teenagers in Norway fighting for survival during the Black Plague.
Contact: Lise Fearnley, Mikrofilm 

Red Snow (Fin)

Dir. Ilja Rautsi
A horror-comedy Christmas film about a vampire Santa Claus who meets a goth teenager. Red Snow is the feature directorial debut of Hatching screenwriter Ilja Rautsi.
Contact: Mark Lwoff, Bufo 

Stranger (Den-Nor)

Dir. Mads Hedegaard
This stone-age action drama set around 4,000bc is to star Angela Bundalovic and Danica Curcic. Filming is scheduled to begin in July.
Contact: Helene Aurø, REinvent