Katla an Icelandic show on Netflix ~ a Review

Reading Time: 6 minutes
A montage of scenes from Katla. Central image is the theatrical poster for the show.

🇮🇸 KATLA 🇮🇸

KATLA (2021) is an Icelandic Netflix Original series. 8 x 41-51 min episodes. Drama, mystery, sci-fi, thriller. 15 Cert U.K. Icelandic, Swedish, English languages. Available with subtitles, close captioning and dubbing. 

Premise:

“One year after the violent eruption of the subglacial volcano Katla, the peace and tranquillity in the small town of Vik is dramatically disturbed.” IMDb

Cast: 

Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð as Gríma 

Íris Tanja Flygenring as Ása 

Ingvar Sigurdsson as Þór 

Aliette Opheim as Gunhild 

Þórsteinn Bachmann as Gíi 

Haraldur Stefansson as Einar

Sólveig Arnarsdóttir as Magnea 

Baltasar Breki Samper as Kjartan 

Birgitta Birgisdóttir as Rakel 

Björn Thors as Darri 

Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir as Álfheiður Grímsdóttir 

Valter Skarsgård as Björn 

Hlyn­ur Atli Harðar­son as Mikael

Theatrical poster for Katla

Crew: 

Directors: Baltasar Kormákur, Börkur SigÞórsson & Thora Hilmarsdottir 

Writers: Ólafur Egilsson (story), Sigurjón Kjartansson, Baltasar Kormákur, Davi Davíd Már Stefánsson & Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Music: Högni Egilsson 

Sound: Huldar Freyr Arnarson 

Make-Up: Ragna Fossberg, Rakel María Hjaltadóttir, Morten Jacobsen & Guðbjörg Huldís Kristinsdóttir

Costume: Karen Briem

Production Designer: Sunneva Ása Weisshappel 

Notes: 

A behind the scenes video working on Katla: 

Katla is one of Iceland’s most explosive volcanoes, located underneath Iceland’s fourth largest ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull. Since settlement, it has erupted, on average, once every fifty years, with the last eruption in 1918. It is long overdue.

Katla is one of the largest volcanic sources of carbon dioxide on Earth, accounting for up to 4% of total global volcanic carbon dioxide emissions.

Many of the cast will be familiar to those who have watched Icelandic films and TV shows. Baltasar Breki (Kormákur’s son in real life) was the B Camera Operator as well as playing Kjartan. 

Image shows a photograph of the Katla eruption in 1918.
Katla eruption 1918

Review: 

I have had my beady eyes set on Katla ever since it was first announced by Netflix. As a “bit of a fan” of Baltasar Kormákur having watched Trapped and Everest, I was eager to see this new series which had a premise that sounded just my cup of tea. 

Icelandic productions always have a unique atmosphere, pacing and perspective and Katla is VERY Icelandic. One of the main draws for me of watching dramas from all over the world is that they are a product of the society and culture from which they emerge. That often means an adjustment for someone unfamiliar with the culture, pace, traditions, humour, expectations etc. that are embedded into these productions. For me, this is the delight of venturing into the world of these shows and movies, but it is sometimes a barrier to others watching a production that is well… different. Katla is very much an Icelandic creation.

Firstly, it is clear that Katla, the volcano herself (Katla is a feminine name) is a major, indeed perhaps THE major character of this story. This series is bookended with figures emerging from volcanic ash. The ash smothers the near-deserted town of Vik. The toxic fumes and debris have their effect upon the animals and humans. Katla is ancient but still much about her and her explosive dangers is a mystery, hence the draw for seismologists and volcanologists such as Darri. 

Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð as Gríma in Katla

This is, aside from the ever-present looming threat of Katla, an ensemble piece. We have a variety of mostly interrelated characters to whom we are introduced who are affected and connected to the strange “otherworldly” happenings in this story. Loss, grief, guilt, regret, belief are explored and questioned through the influence of often buried memories and the past on the present. How can we let go of the past to move on anew? How can we shed the ashy shell that cakes our soul? 

Hlyn­ur Atli Harðar­son as Mikael in Katla

The performances in Katla are universally outstanding. The young actor, Hlyn­ur Atli Harðar­son is fabulous playing Mikael, a definite ‘wrong ‘un’, who reminded me of a combination of Damian (The Omen) with one of those creepy kids from Children of the Corn. It is hard to single out other performances but Björn Thors impresses in this as does Aliette Opheim. All those playing themselves and their doppelgängers are fabulous. Perfect casting and great performances throughout. How many hours some must have spent in Make-Up doesn’t bear thinking about. 

Íris Tanja Flygenring as Ása in Katla

As the story progresses – and make no mistake this is a VERY strange off-kilter story, with its strong folkloric elements i.e. “changelings” along with spirituality, religious faith and yes… science – we find out about the secrets and traumas that these people carry with them. A word to the wise would be that while watching everything will make sense (of sorts) as the story unfolds,  just don’t expect to be spoon-fed. 

Aliette Opheim as Gunhild in Katla showing the close up of the make-up.

If the make-up artists who worked on Katla do not win awards there is no justice in the world because their work is outstanding! 

Can we talk direction and cinematography? Yes, let’s. I almost put this section right near the very start of this review because both the strong direction (by Baltasar Kormákur, Börkur SigÞórsson & Thora Hilmarsdottir) and cinematography are truly outstanding in Katla. The almost indescribable raw beauty of the landscapes, the aerials, the frames, the close-ups… this show is a beautiful creation.

I loved the colour palettes chosen for Katla and the highlight colours that connected them. Outside we have the landscape and locations, shades of grey, the ash, the looming skies, the drear buildings, the oppressive presence of Katla. Inside the colours are generally warmer but again mostly drawing on the natural hues of wood. The major highlight colours outside (in the general environment) are orange and red which “ping” out of the screen at you. These colours, ranging from light pinks through to oranges, reds and browns are picked up most often in the costuming and indoor sets (check out for example the towel colours and Gunhild’s costuming). 

Aliette Opheim as Gunhild in Katla

Combining perfectly with the stunning visuals are the amazing, ambient music score and sound design which weave, dance and enhance but never overwhelm. The use of Dolby Digital for the sound means this is a show that deserves to be watched with surround sound or wearing good headphones. 

The pacing of Katla is slow, almost glacial at times, but as with the subglacial Katla herself pressures build, fissures appear, pressure and tension increases and as we reach the season’s end there is a series of devastating and emotionally affecting events that leave casualties in their wake. 

Katla could not be made anywhere else but Iceland. The culture, the folklore, the volcanoes, the scenery, and the distinctive way Icelanders have of making shows and films… amazing! Well-developed characters, asking big questions all combined with stunning visuals, perfect music and sound interwoven throughout. 

Unable to suspend disbelief? I doubt Katla will be the show for you. But if you can just go with the glaciated, ash-covered flow as this story unfolds before your eyes then I can definitely recommend it.

Katla has some similarities with shows such as Les Revenants (The Returned) and Jordskott but these are somewhat superficial. Katla is very much its own thing, a beautiful, affecting, slow-burn creation that richly deserves a second season. I for one will certainly be watching! 

Awards: 

It is too early for Katla to have been nominated for, or to have won, any awards. 

Trailer: 

Teaser Trailer: 

Reviews of other Baltasar Kormákur productions:

The Deep an Icelandic Film by Baltasar Kormákur

The Oath a Film by Baltasar Kormákur ~ Review

For those who are fans of Nordic/Scandi TV shows and films there is a great affiliated Facebook Page:

https://m.facebook.com/manvelovTheofficialfanpage/

This online publication also has its own Facebook Page with a wide variety of content: 

https://m.facebook.com/reel2reeltalk/

More TV Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/tv/

More Non-Spoiler Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/non-spoiler-reviews/

More Spoiler Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/spoiler-reviews/

More Film Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/film/


Thanks for reading this article, please feel free to comment