In Norway , two metro detectives are called in to help a small and remote town solve a disturbing murder case. In a confusing chase, one cops shoots his partner, and blames the killer they are stalking. As guilt sets in, so to does insomnia; there is no respite from perpetual daylight, and the killer is still out there.
With Insomnia, Skjoldbjaerg forays into that burgeoning genre - the existential thriller - in which atmosphere and angst replace car chases and cliffhangers.
Unlike the dark and claustrophobic Seven, for example, the director has pulled off something of a coup here, pitching characters and plot into the stark, semi permanent daylight of northern Norway, the land of the midnight sun. Film noir rarely comes any brighter than this.
When homicide detectives Engstrom (Skarsgard, fresh - or rather thawed - from Good Will Hunting and Ronin) and Vik (Ousdal) are called to investigate the murder of a teenage girl (clinically dispatched and shampooed to remove all evidence, during the opening credits), resulting in an ambush to catch the killer that goes horribly wrong when Engstrom's gung ho antics result in his accidentally offing his partner. Placing the blame on the suspect Jon Holt (Floberg), a creepy crime novelist, but also caught up in his tacit double-bind, Engstrom suffers guilty, increasingly sleepless nights, descending into madness and depravity by degrees. By halfway, he's positively satanic, molesting minors and displaying an unhealthy interest in Alsatian intestines in futile attempts to stave his conscience.
Skjoldbjaerg crafts a chilly, cerebral, determinedly downbeat thriller with an almost lazy sense of menace, while Skarsgard's central performance is a masterclass in understatement, stalking through the snow like a latter day Lee Marvin, his eyes two proverbial pissholes in a snow-covered cliff.
Insomnia ought not to be sampled last thing at night, but those willing to risk it will be subjected to a finer quality of nightmare.