Review: Katla (streaming on Netflix)

Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð plays Grima in Netflix’ Katla

Set against the backdrop of a subglacial volcano (Katla) in Iceland that has been spewing ash steadily for over a year, Katla is at its heart a show that explores personal loss, tragedy, grief and how differently the shows main characters deal with them. The show slowly unravels its story over 8 episodes and is another series in Netflix’ growing catalog of non-english produced shows that continue to showcase the great creative talents outside of the US.

As the series begins, we are introduced to Grima, the shows central character and Vik, the town at the base of the volcano. Shot on location in the south of Iceland, Vik’s few remaining residents (most fled to Iceland’s capitol city Reykjavík) go about their daily routine, until out of the volcanic region wanders a female, naked and covered in ash and soot. The character is spotted and picked up by Grima (her character is an EMT/Rescue worker) and Gisli’, the town’s lone remaining police officer.

This new character is almost unrecognizable as she is covered from head to toe in volcanic matter, and it’s only after she is bathed that Grima discovers that this person looks exactly like her sister Ása, who went missing a year earlier while on an expedition into Katla just as it began spewing ash and was presumed dead. Where did this person come from? How long has she been wandering? Why does she look like Grima’s missing sister? All these questions are introduced in the first act and work their way to finding their answers as the show progresses.

Aliette Opheim as Gunhild

Katla’s brilliance can be attributed to several factors. It’s pacing is slow and methodical. It’s never in a rush to provide its audience with answers. The slow burn of the story unfolds in a way that helps add to the eeriness of its overall feel. Vik is shot in a way that almost feels alien, yet somehow familiar. Speaking of alien, the show introduces sci-fi elements, almost as if some of the storyline was pulled from an unaired episode of X-Files. The show has grand, wide shots, giving the viewer a real sense of scale to Vik and the surrounding area.

We also get a great sense of the isolation that the residents of Vik endure, with the only way in or out of the area being via a ferry that crosses a tributary from the upper part of Iceland to the lower. This isolation lends to the feeling of dread that we get as the show progresses. I can’t speak enough about the amazing cinematography done on this series. A lot of the shots for Katla reminded me of the great work done on George Miller’s Fury Road.

The performances in Katla are also a marvel, as every character is well cast and no one’s arc is wasted. We are given half a dozen main plot lines and several tertiary, all which help move the main plot forward, helping to keep things tight and focused. As more ash covered people emerge from the volcano (all either being copies of residents of Vik or deceased characters), the show does a great job of filling the gaps of the main characters story. Much like another great non-english Netflix series Dark, here we are given well thought out, well written characters that the viewer can become invested in.

A figure emerges from the volcano

The other interesting thing of note is how the show seamlessly moves from Icelandic to English and back to Icelandic with dialogue. Since I refuse to watch anything in non-English dubbed, it threw me for a loop the first time it happened. But as the show progressed, my wife and I noticed it again. Sometimes this transition would happen in mid conversation. I honestly am not sure of the significance of this, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in a show before?

The series ends on a Cliffhanger, and as of this article, it is still unclear if there will be a season 2 of Katla. I personally like the fact that the show didn’t hand me answers on a silver platter and left many things in question. So if the show ultimately is one-and-done, I would be fine with that. But the other part of me would love to see a second season and give us the chance to dive deeper into this very atmospheric world that series creator Baltasar Kormákur has given us.

Between Dark, Ragnarok, and now Katla Netflix has built an impressive list of foreign produced series that are giving viewers are nice option for those of us looking to find hidden gems for our TV viewing pleasure. I highly recommend Katla and hope we see more of it’s kind in the future.

Katla spews ash

As always, leave a comment with your thoughts. Until next time, LLAP!

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