Review: Katla, mysterious and atmospheric

Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð in Katla

Katla, a series from Iceland, creates a world of cold and volcanic ash. The most remarkable aspect of the series is the atmosphere and environment built around a melting glacier and an active volcano. The series is on Netflix.

Katla is much like Glitch or Bloom. It creates a sci-fi (or perhaps fantasy) world in which things happen but there’s never an explanation for why. A few theories are floated, but nothing definitive explains events. They just are.

Aliette Opheim in Katla
First one off the glacier is Gunhild

What just is? People who should be dead or who already exist come walking off the glacier covered in a thick coating of sticky ash. When they are cleaned up and recognized no one can understand what’s happening.

Aliette Opheim in Katla
Two versions of the same person

Gunhild (Aliette Opheim) walks off the glacier as a 20 year old. The same woman, now 40, lives in Sweden with her son Björn (Valter Skarsgård). The older Gunhild travels to Vik to see what’s happening. At age 20, she lived in here, worked in the hotel, and had a relationship with Þór (Ingvar Sigurdsson). Several other characters are surprised by the appearance of versions of themselves.

Perhaps more than logic, appearances could be because of loss, longing, and grief.

Katla is near a small town called Vik. No one is left in the smoke and ash covered town but a few scientists working near the volcano, a stubborn dairy farmer and his wife, the keeper of a small hotel, and a few emergency personnel like rescue and police. Everyone else abandoned the site.

Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð in Katla
Gríma is tied to the new appearances in a number of ways

The next appearance is Ása (Íris Tanja Flygenring), who died a year earlier. Ása’s sister Gríma (Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð) is married to the dairy farmer and a member of the rescue squad. Ása’s disappearance a year ago changed her. She’s grieved to the point of depression and the near ruin of her marriage. Her father Þór is a mechanical genius who keeps everything in the area working right. He’s the Þór who knew Gunhild.

Having your son back isn’t all you thought it would be

Eight year old Mikael (Hlynur Harðarson), whose father is the geologist Darri (Björn Thors) appears. He died 3 years ago and is still the age he was at death.

In other words, there’s not much logic to who appears – someone who died, or another version of an existing person. Perhaps more than logic, appearances could be because of loss, longing, and grief. Or maybe it’s due to ancient Islandic folklore about hidden people. Explaining the mystery isn’t an important part of the plot.

There’s soot and smoke and black ash everywhere. The air is unfit to breathe. Tap water is the color of ash. Clothing, faces, hands, and everything else is coated with grime. The specific look of the place created as much response in me as the slow moving plot. Strong characters helped maintain interest. A twist at the end of each episode added a bit of a bump to the emotional draw.

I don’t know if this series will get a second season. The final image of the glacier indicates there is plenty more story ready if Netflix says, “Go.”

Katla poster

Check out the trailer.

Are you interested in this series?

4 thoughts on “Review: Katla, mysterious and atmospheric”

  1. I watched this series. It is similar to Glitch but completely different at the same time. The atmosphere and the ever-present cold mean everything happens just a bit faster than slow motion. But the story needs it. It’s not an exciting movie, it’s an interesting movie. You see people living on the edge of what’s possible for normal existence. So when not normal comes along, the normal characters don’t see abnormal as starkly as we would.

    The language flips back and forth between English and Icelandic seamlessly. My dad was posted there during WWII and maintained friendships with the locals for the rest of his and their lives. He was billeted with a family there. In Iceland during that era, there was not much for a soldier to do except drink, which he did. He never said so but alcoholism must have been a big deal there. Maybe it still is. Iceland today is a progressive society but back then, it was not that much different than what we seen in the movie. My dad was there for 3 years until he was called back to England to train for the Normandy Invasion.

    Due to my dad’s connection with Iceland, my very first geography lessons were about Iceland. I still keep track of things involving Iceland to a minor degree. So this movie and the last Netflix Icelandic movie are windows into a reality I’ve always been peripherally aware of. Everything about it is interesting to me.

    I found the characters believable and Ava, the most tragic. Her end seemed inevitable once she found out what people thought of her in life. She was unfitted to overcome her former circumstances once she knew. She should have been rehabbed in Sweden but even that might not have saved her.

    When a life form, any life form is rendered purposeless, it wilts and dies and each of those people would eventually meet that fate in my estimation. No one can stay happy forever and in that location the elements are always working against them.

    What made it watchable for me other than the place itself was the reaction the living had for the recently emerged. Each had a different reaction. Those reactions evolved differently for each and that evolution was exquisite. The evolution of those revelations was what kept us watching. My wife didn’t want watch at first but she was drawn in.

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