Black Sands: A Non-Spoiler Review

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Poster of the show Black Sands

🇮🇸 BLACK SANDS 🇮🇸

Black Sands (2021) is an Icelandic TV crime/drama/thriller series available on Alibi (via Sky/Now) in the U.K. This series has 8 x 45-minute episodes. In Icelandic with embedded English subtitles. Rated Guidance U.K.

Premise:

“A troubled police officer is forced back to her hometown. Confronting her abusive mother is inescapable but the discovery of a body changes everything. She’s forced to search for a dangerous serial killer while stuck in a dark pit.” IMDb

Cast:

Black Sands stars Aldís Amah Hamilton as Aníta Elínardottir, who played Eyja in Katla and Disa in The Valhalla Murders.
Þór Tulinius as Ragnar
Kolbeinn Arnbjörnsson as Salómon Arnbjörnsson
Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir as Elín
Ævar Þór Benediktsson as Gústi
Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir as Fríða Melsteð
Aron Már Ólafsson as Tómas
Ania Powaska as Lena Nowak
Our ‘Familj’ member Þorsteinn Bachmann is also in this as Karl

Crew:


Writers: Aldís Amah Hamilton, Ragnar Jónsson, Baldvin Zophoníasson, Andri Óttarsson
Director: Baldvin Zophoníasson (also known as Baldvin Z)
Composer: Petur Jonsson
Cinematographer: Jóhann Máni Jóhannsson
Editor: Úlfur Teitur Traustason
Makeup Designer: Kristín Kristjánsdóttir

Notes:

From Ragnar Jónsson’s IMDb profile ~
“Working as a bloodstain pattern specialist with the Reykjavík Metropolitan police, Iceland, CSI unit since 2001 and police officer and detective since 1990. My love for movies goes back to when I was around ten years old. I own a huge collection of movies and TV series. For the past 12 years, I have been so lucky to give advice and even take part in Icelandic movies and TV series. I am working on my own TV series and giving advice to forthcoming Icelandic TV crime series. I am married for 20 years with two kids, born 1996 and 2003. 9.1.2018.”

This series was made during lockdown heavy Covid-restrictions.

Review:

I love an Icelandic drama that makes good use of its unique landscape and locations as well as a slow-burning, twisty plot with good characters. So when I heard that Black Sands was coming to Alibi it was a “must watch” for me. Did it live up to my expectations?

Episode 1 seemed quite slow but was a good, solid introduction for characters and context. I would say that for the most part, this is not a show full of frenetic activity but when it does let loose it does so effectively.

Secrets. Secrets of all kinds drive much of this story and terrible things in the past have a long and lasting impact on characters. This is a creepy, deeply disturbing and twisted story that conveys small-town claustrophobia very well. Codependency and doing nothing to actually change things as well as guilt, culpability and frankly disgraceful denial. The juxtaposition of sex and death was done well.

I really liked that there were some nice touches of humour in Black Sands, humour which is often missing as a balance in the Nordic noir series. For this show, it worked even if it made you think “Oh, don’t say that!” The romance too seemed realistic, rather than an add-on to the characters or plot.

There is good dramatic use of flashbacks in this show which advance what we know about these people and events.

I really rated the acting in this (some of it was outstanding) and that must also be down to the quality of the dialogue which I thought was very solid. There are quite a few worn tropes in this but this is offset by them being worked differently.

I do dislike plot devices such as people leaving essential equipment in cars although I see they are needed for the plot to work. There are also some minor subtitle issues and at least one glaring continuity error involving a magically closing car door. I do think that this show could have benefitted from more ruthless editing but I still enjoyed it a lot.

Nice sweater Eríka but please change it because it’s honestly surprising that it wasn’t walking around on its own by the end! Even Saga changed her top in The Bridge. I can only assume it’s to reflect her psychological state but.. just… no! On another note, Suzi Quattro-style hair/wig is never a good look (just saying).

The choice of colour palette with blues, greys, orange/tan/browns and black – occasionally green – picks up on the shades within the natural landscape. I relished this aspect of the production.

The music is good in this with a great choice and use of songs and their relevant lyrics. “Because the Night” by Patti Smith Group was inspired.

The use of the stark, beautiful Icelandic scenery in this is excellent. I loved the establishing shots. I LOVED Baldwin Z’s direction of Black Sands. Everything about it was quality from the framing, to the angle, and directional choices e.g. using handheld for certain scenes.

Black Sands is quite a slow series with regard to the unfolding of the story but this is offset by the dynamic and interesting directing and the strong character development. This is not a show guilty of style over substance. I also found it emotionally moving in parts and could certainly feel for some of the characters, even if they were not “good people”.

Overall then, I can recommend Black Sands as a slowly unfolding watch which kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next.

Trailer:

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