Modus: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (5th March 2019).
The Show

What is up with these mysteries by folks that live in Sweden and Norway? Is there something in the water that is producing dour protagonists like Henning Mankell’s Wallander or is it the reverse; that the dark outlook of American produced noir’s has caught on, but this time is presented in a wintery climate rather than sunny Los Angeles? Whatever the cause, we Americans surely cannot get enough of these spine tingling bizarre crimes and that leads us to today’s series, "Modus". Presented on two Blu-ray discs, this is season one of the series and it isn’t too bad. Starring Melinda Kinnaman, half-sister of the star of another series "The Killing" (2011-2014), Joel Kinnaman, she portrays a criminal profiler turned author, Johanne Vik. Vik has hung up her spurs, if you will, but a series of nasty slayings at Christmas time has pulled her back into the fight against crime; but this time it’s personal because the unknown killer has decided to target Stina (Esmeralda Struve), Vik’s autistic daughter, who was witness to the first killing. I know, I know, it sounds heavy handed and completely unrealistic, but if you allow yourself to be sucked into the tide of the plot, you may be surprised and actually enjoy yourself. Be warned, it is impossible to write about the plot without spoilers, so there you have it.

Welcome to the Nordic Noir Zone! The camera pans slowly from a great height over snow covered forests or we see the nighttime display of a city from above: is it Stockholm, Sweden or Oslo, Norway or Helsinki, Finland? It honestly could be any of those three as this seems to be a pervading image in these series. Cold, white, barren Scandinavian countryside or empty, isolated stretches of city streets; this is how it begins, but that will soon change. It is the holiday season and Johanne Vik and her family are attending the wedding of her sister at a posh hotel in the city. We learn that she and her husband Isak Aronson (Simon J. Berger) are divorced, but that they take turns raising their two daughters, Stina and Linnea (Lily Wahlsteen). As previously mentioned, Stina is autistic which means “that she can’t express her feelings in words” and that makes her the perfect victim to witness a gruesome body disposal. Vik leaves her two children alone in the hotel room watching videos to attend the festivities (some parenting technique) and, of course, Stina is free to wander the hotel’s massive spiral staircase that leads to the basement. What distinguishes this series from other similar fares is that the episode started with the killer, who goes by the name of Richard Forrester (Marek Oravec), preparing himself for the job ahead in an isolated caravan in the woods; at this time we know nothing about this character except that ominous music plays on the soundtrack, and that he has a mysterious box filled with cell phones that contain images of his targeted victims.

The first target is a woman that just happened to be on the same elevator as Vik and her children; Stina mentions something about always using local ingredients in her cooking because it is good for the environment and we realize that she is mimicking something she heard on television. The TV chef Isabella Levin (Julia Dufvenius) has a terse phone call with someone in the hallway and then gets on the elevator only to be violently dispatched by the killer. We notice that he is wearing earbuds while classical music plays and that he displays a methodical technique during the murder which may hint at his having some military training in the past. As Forrester removes the body and carries it down the unused stairwell, Stina happens to be coming down the steps and she accidentally sees the killer. Stunned, Stina wanders away from the hotel and into the street in her pyjamas and barefooted right into the path of an approaching truck. Right before she would have been hit and killed, the killer swiftly runs out into the street and pushes the girl to safety. This behavior is troubling because wouldn’t the majority of cold blooded assassins simply stand by and let the only witness to the crime be taken out of the picture? Ah, this gives the blank looking killer some depth and propels the story forward; since we know literally nothing about this man except that he is on some type of mission, this hints at a greater depth of personality that will slowly be revealed. Vik rushes out into the street to embrace her daughter, but not before she slaps the man’s face. So the first episode sets into motion a delicately balanced plot that evokes issues with family, religion, human rights and the concept of love all set in the liberal setting of Stockholm.

Episode Two has policeman Ingvar Nymann (Henrik Norlén) joining Vik at the scene of the attempted accident and he is the typical moody European man; his character is quiet and withdrawn, and we learn that he is also divorced and the father of a deceased child. Is there a romance angle brewing between him and Vik? Possibly but the overall tone of this series is a slow burn and the only real criticism that I have is that various characters are interjected into the plot without any introduction and that there are numerous people to keep track of. In Uppsala, we are introduced to an outspoken female bishop Elisabeth Lindgren (Cecilia Nilsson) and her morose husband Erik (Krister Henriksson); all I could think of was that he appears to be like a John Cheever character, wearing rumpled clothes and dying for a drink. We are also introduced to a gay power couple, Rolf Ljunberg (Peter Jöback) a veterinarian and his husband, Marcus Ståhl (Magnus Roosman) a wealthy shipping magnate; he of the chequered outfits that simply scream homosexual. We see the killer Forrester secreted in his caravan tuning into a right wing preacher on his laptop as he speaks to his congregation about the dangers of homosexuality and that the country that is most responsible for this is Scandinavia. So major clue alert; the killer is obviously someone with a grudge against homosexuals and he is receiving hate filled messages from a preacher somewhere in the states. Forrester kills the Bishop on Christmas Eve in cold blood with a single precise stab wound to the chest with a big knife. He's also stalking Vik’s daughter, peering in the house’s windows and looking menacing while following her at a museum. Vik is aware that there is a threat to her family, but Stina is keeping silent about the continued presence of the killer as the game of cat-and-mouse continues. So there are many players involved in this plot so far, but to what effect? The murders have continued and the authorities are no closer to making an arrest as the episode closes on a cliffhanging ending which just leaves the audience hungry for more information.

Episode Three continues on at the same slow pace as the previous two episodes; there is a certain glacial pacing to this series. Various clues are being doled out slowly and surely: Erik Lindgren had been questioned about his wife’s activities prior to her death and he mysteriously dumps her laptop into an ice covered lake; Vik makes the connection that there is a gay thread between the two victims; more is shown of Forrester’s previous life, but he essentially remains a mystery to the viewers. So the body of the first victim is finally recovered by the police and Vik has now officially come out of retirement to help find the killer. Marcus and Rolf are told some good news by Patricia Green (Liv Mjönes) that they are to expect a sibling for their adopted child Noah Ståhl (Primus Lind) but Rolf is jealous that a certain male artist has captured his partner’s interest. Patricia and Rolf attend an art opening of the artist Niclas Rosén (Giovanni Bucchieri) and Rolf is sure that Marcus has the hots for him. The episode ends with Niclas found dead; a supposedly suicide from a drug overdose.

Episode Four begins with the ambulance arriving at the art exhibit to take Niclas’ body away. Things are starting to heat up plot wise as Stina is being kept at her father’s house for her safety; we see various photographs of unidentified people as Forrester sits alone in his camper and mourns the loss of his wife and teenage son. This is about as much information we are going to get about the mysterious hit man as he is essentially a cypher. Vik comforts her daughter and asks if she saw anyone else in the hotel but Stina remains silent and refuses to tell the truth. Vik examines the web pages of the two victims and sees evidence of harassment and gay bashing on both sites. Another clue that the killings are tied together by a hatred of gay people (which I figured out in the first episode but here it is episode four and Vik is finally making the connection). The police trace the user of the caustic comments to a man with former charges and search his home; this man knows the identity of the killer but he won’t reveal who he is. It turns out that this man was seen lurking outside of Vik’s house on Christmas Eve, but he reveals nothing. A series of homophobic attacks are reported in Stockholm. Marcus and Rolfe’s housekeeper Gunilla Larsson (Anki Lidén) is introduced into the mix and her son Robin (Christoffer Jareståhl), who is gay, is viciously attacked outside of where he works, but he miraculously escapes from the killer. There is the hint of a romance brewing between Vik and Nyman but it is developing slowly, of course.

Episode Five has Vik getting in touch with an FBI agent in the States and she supplies her with some information about a group of religious fanatics who take out murder contracts on homosexuals. The group is called 1+5 and it turns out to be the same group of extremists that Forrester watches on the internet. Robin, who has sustained severe head injuries from an attack from Forrester manages to get home but dies in his bed. Rolf Ljungberg realizes that he and his husband Marcus Ståhl are connected to all previous four murders and reports it to the police. Two new characters are inserted into the plot: Hawre Ghan (Simon Settergren) is a teenage male sex worker that lives in a subway tunnel with a girl, Fanny (Leona Axelsen) that paints the walls of the tunnel with spray paint. Can you say, next victim coming up? Forrester makes short work of the boy with a twist of the neck and then deposits the body outside of the offices of Marcus Ståhl. Obviously this is a trap for Marcus to stumble into and sure enough he does and immediately becomes a suspect.

Episode Six starts with Forrester attacking Fanny the spray-painting teen, but she manages to fight him off, digging her nails deep into his eyes. Marcus Ståhl is subjected to an intrusive physical examination to see if he was sexually active with the murdered Ghan but this is inconclusive and he is allowed to return home. Marcus’ personal assistant, Marianne (Eva Melander) comes into play in this episode and it is revealed that she is working with Forrester to help keep tabs on Marcus. Vik and Nyman finally start making out but Vik puts on the brakes when things get too hot because she doesn’t want a one night stand. Forrester is watching a broadcast of his favorite preacher when suddenly the FBI busts in and disrupts the services. The preacher grabs an automatic weapon and starts to fire on the agents but they return fire and kill him instantly. Forrester can’t believe his eyes as he sees the preacher put down and then he loses service. Nyman calls on Elizabeth’s secret lover and extracts the truth about the bishop. Forrester has found Fanny’s home in the tunnels and he discovers to his horror, that she has captured his essence on one of the walls. He picks up a can of black paint and begins to cover the replica up. More and more secrets are revealed. One thing that I have noticed throughout this series is the issue of guilt lurks just below the surface for a number of characters in the show. There is plenty of hidden lives, clandestine loves, and a deep theme of guilt throughout.

Episode Seven has Vik using her skills as a profiler to pin down the mysterious Forrester as the culprit in all of the slayings. You would assume that now that the preacher has been killed, that the mission would be aborted, but not so, Forrester will not give up until all loose ends are tied up completely. So we are closing in on the end of the series but there are still many unanswered questions: Who is going to be the fifth victim? What will happen to Stina and Linnea when they sneak out of their father’s house in the middle of the night? Vik finally knows who the killer is and she has a complete profile of the man: he is a homophobic supremacist from the States, with an FBI file on him, prone to violent impulse control outbursts, a former marine and outdoorsman? We get a major revelation from Marcus when he finally tells Rolf the truth about the chain of killings: Marcus was the one responsible for setting into motion the chain of events because he hired a killer to dispatch with Niclas the artist because, hold on now, Niclas was his unknown half-brother and that his father had left behind a secret will that would make Niclas the sole heir to his vast fortune. Why, you ask? Because Lars Olaf Ståhl was a nasty homophobic man and he did not approve of his son’s lifestyle and so everything would be left to his bastard son. Get ready to dial "I" for irony because Lars did not realize that his offspring was gay as well. So it turns out that Marcus was ultimately the one with blood on his hands because he set loose a killing machine when he hired Forrester, and in a weirdly beautiful scene, while Rolf watches from another window, Marcus eats his gun and showers his brains all over the wall behind him. Doesn’t that make him victim number 5? Can’t the bloodshed now cease? Not according to Forrester as he strangles Marianne in a fit of rage: …”different score” he tells her before throttling her.

We finally arrive at Episode Eight and the girls were last seen getting into an unknown vehicle in the woods. They were attempting to get home to be with their mother. A stern looking woman picks them up and we are briefly led to believe that it is another cohort of Forrester’s, but fake scare, the woman is friendly and the girls are dropped off in front of their home. Apparently the locks have been changed since they have last been here and now the girls can’t get inside. Stina finally reaches Vik by using the woman’s cell phone and, we the viewers, breathe a sigh of relief. We see the killer doing something to the front headlight of Patricia’s car, but it is unclear what it means. As Patricia sets out to perform in a concert, Forrester lies in wait on the other side of a bridge; he is watching the road with binoculars and is planning a suicide-murder with his car. When Patricia comes into view, with one headlight on, Forrester takes off, headed for the bridge. The killer is ready; he has his headphones on and we can hear a choral piece of classical music faintly as he accelerates the vehicle, preparing for death. A last minute phone call arrives from Vik to Forrester: she thanks him for sparing Stina’s life and tells him that Stina is different than other children. Vik tells him that she knows that he knew this (apparently his child was autistic as well) and at the last minute, Forrester swerves and misses his target. Vik is home alone when Stina’s police car rolls into the room; that can only signify one thing, the killer is back and he has a score to settle. So much for good deeds. Forrester bats her about the kitchen but he once again has underestimated the female of the species; Vik fights back with some serious female rage, hitting the killer with a frying pan, gouges at his eyes, and then ultimately stabs him repeatedly in the stomach with a large knife. The viewer is gratified that the male killer has finally met his match and is put down for now. We watch as the ambulance arrives and a barely living Forrester is wheeled out on a stretcher. The last shot of the series is Vik giving Ingvar a caring look, their faces illuminated with the flashing blue lights, as the credits roll.

Video

Presented in the show's original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, this is a pristine presentation on two dual-layered Blu-ray discs with excellent colors and depth. The cinematography duties were split between two different people: Erik Persson and Linda Wassberg and both did an excellent job with excellent use of framing and mise-en-scène. The colors are sharp and full, whether indoors or out, and the picture is very good.

Audio

Kino Lorber did a great job with this one supplying a full Swedish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and there is an effective use of music on the soundtrack by composer Jacob Groth. The use of the lower bass levels when Forrester appears is effective and creepy. There's also a Swedish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo language track. Optional subtitles are available in English only.

Extras

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

This disc features the first four episodes:

– No. 1 (44:02)
– No. 2 (43:27)
– No. 3 (44:09)
– No. 4 (42:36)

There are no supplements on this disc.

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY

The remaining four episodes are featured on this disc:

– No. 5 (42:57)
– No. 6 (42:57)
– No. 7 (43:10)
– No. 8 (43:00)

The only supplements (if you can call them that) are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Modus: Season 1" (2:10)
- "Modus: Season 2" (2:37)
- "Appletree Yard" (1:37)
- "The Bureau: Season 1" (1:54)
- "Hostages: Season 1" (2:09)
- "Maximillian and Marie De Bourgogne" ( 3:05)

Packaging

Packaged in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

The pace of this series was a bit too slow. I had high hopes for this when it arrived, but the multi-faceted plot left me with too many unanswered questions. It was a nice change of pace to see something that was more character motivated and the strong lead female character was interesting as well. It's well shot and with interesting locales, this series didn’t blow me away but it is worth seeking out for those that are craving more Nordic Noir.

The Show: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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