Created by Baltasar Kormáku
Release Date: June 17th 2021
With its oppressive small town setting right next to an erupting volcano, sparse landscapes, overbearing atmospheric music score and emotional misery heaped upon its lead characters, there is a possibility that Katla might prove a bit much for most audiences. However, for anyone who sticks with it for its eight-episode run (and I ended up watching it in one go so I don’t know what that says about me), you might end up finding some grim delights amongst its overbearing nature.
There are many things that the series cannot help but remind you off. Its setting plays right into the realm of Nordic Noir, and the only thing that would cap the entire thing off would be a murder mystery to be solved by its lead characters, but instead it’s the lack of death that is the problem to be solved here (although a dead body does inevitably show up to throw in a game changer of a twist around the halfway mark).
Its main mystery feels like it needs the presence of Mulder and Scully to crack it; the volcanic setting, the story itself getting to grips with science vs the supernatural and the possibilities that faith and belief are colliding with some sort of unknowing science feels like the type of material that Chris Carter’s famed 90s sci-fi mystery always wanted to get to grips with and there are pivotal moments of dialogue that you could imagine David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson delivering.
There is even a touch of JJ Abrams’ favourite mode of storytelling going on; the entire thing has a touch of the ‘mystery box’ favoured by the Lost co-creator that he even found time to breathe into his other creations, Alias and Fringe.
Katla doesn’t want to become some expansive genre exercise in the way that Lost did, nor does it strive towards what could be termed ‘blockbuster event television’. All the trappings are there for sure, but that feeling of being a massive event is the last thing on the series’ mind.
Instead, it wants to wrap you up in an all-consuming atmosphere of grief, bad choices, and a dread uncertainty as it piles on twists-upon-twists, sitting back and watching its characters suffer and squirm in a way that might prove a little much for some but for anyone who wants to enjoy an unremittingly dark drama, the series has you covered.
It never coasts on easy answers, and for anyone that wants resolution here, you might have to go elsewhere (which makes it very much a companion piece to the type of series created by JJ Abrams or Chris Carter). There is an ends to the earth feeling here that is enhanced by the main setting of its small community having to deal with the billowing smoke coming from the volcano right next to it. The little details are wonderful, such as characters having to brush ash off the roof of their houses or having to turn the heating way up unless an ash cloud blows ash through the building.
It could almost be a quiet apocalypse in a way, which is quite apt given that the dead are returning. The series never quite explains why it is that these ‘doubles’ are showing up. Is the morphing effect that scientist Darri discovers from the rocks he gets from the bottom of a crater the key to the mystery, or is it the changelings of folklore that the owner of the local hotel describes? You just have to go with it.
Answers might be forthcoming in a second season (and that might be a big ask since this is a Netflix original and the axe is being swung by them like it’s going out of business), but truthfully, if it doesn’t come back for a second chapter, the lack of answers might only add to its dark allure. Things are relatively resolved, although some character elements are left hanging just in case and the haunting final scene hints at a more epic version of the tale to come, but if this were to be the end, then it would just fit with the rest of the mould of a show that doesn’t try to make things malleable or easy.
The possibility of a ‘life lesson’ is suggested at times throughout the final episode, but when those lessons involved drowning a child or playing Russian Roulette with your double to see who gets to be with your husband, you get the sense that Katla’s world is one that is truly unforgiving.
The latter plot involves a dual performance from Guðrún Eyfjörð that is mesmerising to watch, really going to town with the emotional horror of her character’s journey into an increasingly nightmarish scenario that borders on Kafka at the best of times.
The past haunts its cast of characters and even the returned offer no easy answers or resolutions to the things that drive them. Instead, all it does is offer new trauma, new reasons to despair at life, all the while the ash cloud gets bigger and bigger around them.
As I’ve said, it’s not the easiest watch in the world, but if you subject yourself to its mysteries, its atmosphere and its intoxicating blend of mystery, character drama and emotional horror, then you might be left wanting some more of what it has to offer.
Katla is now available to stream on Netflix.