Cold (Kuldi) (2023)

Cold (Kuldi) has its UK première at the Glasgow Film Festival 2024

  Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Cold (Kuldi) has, appropriately enough, a cold open. For as it begins, we see Lára (Álfrún Örnólfdóttir) head out in a dressing gown to the balcony of her high-rise apartment and, with a dazed look on her face, lean forwards, arms open, to plummet into the void. The title card appears, and the loud thudding sound that comes next will turn out not to be the blunt trauma of Lára’s deadly impact on the ground below, but rather the noise of a polaroid camera being operated by her now motherless 13-year-old daughter Rún (Ólöf Halla Jóhannesdóttir) some months later. Indeed here time works in mysterious ways, with the past readily bleeding into the present.

Going through grief and guilt and difficult growing pains, Rún now lives with her father Óðinn (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) in a different part of town, and struggles to fit into her new school while still working through the confronting horror of her mother’s death – which she witnessed, and for which she blames herself. Óðinn too is haunted, constantly reminded of his late ex-wife not just by actual visits from Lára’s own concerned mother (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), but by ghostly apparitions from Lára herself who seems desperate to communicate something. Óðinn’s only distraction is his investigation for child services of a home (called Krókur) for male juvenile delinquents which has stood empty since 1984 when two boys died there, one reported to have also been involved a lethal fall. “I won’t bring this home with me, I promise,” Óðinn assures his colleague – and lover – Diljá (Sara Dögg Ásgeirdóttir) of his grim work. Yet even if it keeps him from devoting more time and attention to Rún when she needs it, this investigation and Óðinn’s domestic life will soon overlap, proving to be intimately related, even indivisible.


“It’s easy to lose track of time down here,” Óðinn will tell Diljá of Child Services’ basement archives where he is searching the historical records for clues to the past – and sure enough, the film too will let time slip as it regularly flashes back four decades to 1984, where young Aldís (Elīn Hall) works as a maid at Krókur, befriending the boys Einar (Mikael Kaaber) and Tobbi (Baldur Björn Arnarsson), avoiding the ever-watchful gaze of the cruel, creepy Christian couple (Björn Stefánsson, Selma Björnsdóttir) who run the institution, and hoping somehow to escape the ‘dark shadow’ of mental illness that has left both her grandmother and mother institutionalised. 

All these elements and storylines will intersect, blurring the lines between this coldest of cold cases and the ‘time of the midnight sun’ during which Óðinn is conducting his inquiry (and when Iceland, despite the title, is at its warmest). The screenplay, co-written by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Thoroddsen, puts multiple elements in place without revealing until the end how they all fit together – but Cold is very much a film about looking and overlooking, as various characters either live in denial or hide in plain sight. 

Ultimately Cold is a tale of nature versus nurture, as characters, abandoned by family and left to their own devices, play out the genetic legacy bequeathed to them by their ancestors. Set in a nation whose relatively small population and geographical insularity have made it an ideal place for studies in genomics, this is, not unlike Baltasar Kormákur’s Jar City (2006), a genetic psychothriller, where the dark shadow of history, though avoidable with due care, has a tendency to repeat itself across the generations, transmuting and hybridising all the way down.

strap: Erlingur Thoroddsen’s summer-set, cold-case psychothriller confronts a single father with a long legacy of abuse, trauma and mental illess

© Anton Bitel