Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Detective drama
Availability: Netflix, Danish with subtitles
Plot: The six-part series of The Chestnut Man begins with a 1980s flashback of a brutal murder – the killing of a family on an isolated Danish farm. Small chestnut figurines are found, adding a creepy sense of foreboding. Fast forward thirty years to present day Copenhagen where a women is viciously slain by a killer who leaves the same calling card – chestnut figurines. Then it happens again. Detective Naia Thulin takes on the case, along with her new partner, Europol agent, Mark Hess. At first, Thulin is unimpressed with Hess. He’s distracted, and in the well-worn Nordic Noir tradition, he looks like he might be on the spectrum. Concurrently, Rosa Hartung, Denmark’s Social Minister, returns to work after twelve-months leave following the abduction and murder of her daughter, Kristen. In their own ways, Rosa, her husband Steen, and their son Gustav all try to cope with the loss of a much loved daughter and sister, a loss that critically exposes the fragility of the family. When Kristen’s fingerprint is found on a chestnut man figurine next to each of the recently murdered women, the detectives begin a relentless pursuit of the killer as they try to connect the victims.
Cast: The cast of The Chestnut Man is strong, and the uneasy pairing of the two detectives is a real strength of the series. Danica Curcic is terrific as Naia, a single mother and full-time detective who realises that her daughter is bearing the brunt of her obsessive work life. She applies to transfer to a desk job, but in the meantime the demanding Chestnut Man case takes up all her time, also exposing the fragility of her relationships. On top of that, as she gets to know and like Hess, she tries to look out for him. Hess, played well by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, is talented, but also struggles to cope with his own tragic family history. As such, this places additional strain and responsibility on Naia.
Filming and Setting: This is a very well filmed series. The aerial shots are stunning, and the film’s overall use of muted colours serve to reinforce the dark and menacing plot. It seems that Danish children make all kinds of animals from chestnuts during the autumn months, and the appropriation of a child’s chestnut man by the serial killer makes the drama even more sinister. This is chillingly captured in a scene where children are innocently singing a song to the chestnut man, inviting him in, while an ominous dark shadow loiters above them. It’s a clever juxtaposition of safety and threat, something that the series does well throughout.
Personal Comments: The Chestnut Man is a suspenseful drama that intelligently weaves together multiple themes relating to fragility in families as the characters cope with grief, loss, responsibility and sadness. At the same time, it is a classic whodunit that has you looking for clues and trying to solve the mystery of how the sinister chestnut figurines connect across different details of the story. Following familiar Nordic Noir territory, Søren Sveistrup’s screenplay, based on his own successful debut novel of the same name, results in a tightly knit and compelling series. Interestingly, Sveistrup also created The Killing, and both have the mark of a deliberate, slow burner plot. The Chestnut Man is, in fact, similar to the earlier series in a number of ways, and could be mistaken as being from the same decade. If you like Nordic Noir and enjoyed The Killing, this intense and satisfying series is well worth the watch.