Review by Sean Boelman
Adapted from the collection of novellas by Swedish author Håkan Nesser, filmmaker Daniel Alfredson’s Intrigo trilogy offers viewers three independent but thematically-connected tales of murder, mayhem, and mystery. Yet despite competent direction and strong casting, the scripts are too uneven for the films to be particularly memorable.
Alfredson and co. took three of the five stories out of Nesser’s collection to adapt to the big screen, each exploring a different genre of crime fiction. Because of this, not only do each of the movies diverge in terms of plot and character, but they also have distinct tones. The link that connects them is a non-diegetic narrator who introduces the theme of each film in a Twilight Zone-esque manner via voiceover, but this is simply too weak of a structure.
The first entry, Death of an Author, which already received a U.S. release this January, is undeniably the most intriguing of the three, if only because it is the most ambitious. The complex intertwined narrative about a writer recounting his story of translating a famous author’s final work is a bit too convoluted for its own good, but has enough twists and turns to keep the viewer entertained at the least.
That said, it is the cast in Death of an Author that impresses the most. Sir Ben Kingsley gives a supporting performance that, while minimal in nature, is quite entertaining to watch. Benno Fürmann also gives a compelling turn in his role, having all the charming qualities that define the mysterious leading man.
However, the other two entries in the film lose this aspect of mystery, and as a result, aren’t quite as compelling. Yes, Dear Agnes and Samaria are much easier to follow, but with that comes a predictability that isn’t particularly rewarding. They are relatively anticlimactic follow-ups to a strong beginning.
The second part, Dear Agnes, explores the lengths a person will go to in desperation, and it’s comparatively dull to what Death of an Author has to offer. In what is essentially an erotic thriller with none of the steaminess, there is still a bit of twistiness to this story, but the result is largely underwhelming and anticlimactic.
Samaria, the final of the three movies, finds a nice middle ground between logical and entertaining, but it still drags quite a bit. Following a documentarian and her former professor as they try to uncover the truth behind a disappearance that may have resulted in a wrongful conviction, this is the most grounded and realistic of the three films.
The first hour of Samaria is very compelling, drawing viewers in with the promise of an exciting thriller with a big reveal. But when that reveal finally comes, viewers will almost certainly be underwhelmed, wishing that there had been even ten more minutes to tie up the loose ends in a more satisfying way.
Alfredson is certainly one hell of a director, taking these underdeveloped scripts and turning them into something genuinely watchable, but one can’t help but feel like something got lost in the process of adaptation. Turning a dense short story into something a bit more screen-friendly has always been a challenge for filmmakers, and perhaps a trilogy of feature-length movies wasn’t the way to do it.
As of right now, adaptations of Nesser’s two remaining Intrigo stories are stuck in development, and perhaps that’s for the best. Although they’re passable entertainment for the most part, Alfredson’s films are grasping on straws even in that department. Sometimes it’s better to leave the source material alone.
Intrigo: Death of an Author is now available on VOD. Intrigo: Dear Agnes and Intrigo: Samaria hit VOD on May 5.