Henrik Ruben Genz | 2008 | 90 mins | Denmark
Terribly Happy is loosely based on some very grizzly real-life events, and it's the kind of story that would have been adapted into a gritty, tension-soaked crime drama anywhere else in the world. In Denmark, though, they turn it into a tension-soaked, nearly Twin-Peaks-esque black comedy, which actually rescues it from being a so-so drama and turns it into a truly eerie thriller.
Robert (Jakob Cedergren) is a policeman with a shady past who's been reassigned from Copenhagen to a quiet provincial town surrounded by grim expanses of grey clouds and muddy swampland. The townsfolk are predictably suspicious of the prim, proper, by-the-book young man, and soon local customs and disturbing secrets start to come knocking on the cop shop door.
The "everything's ok down here" facade of the creepy little town begins to crumble pretty much the second Robert moves in, when we see him walking down the desolate, rain slicked streets of the town, observed by a small, lone girl walking a squeaky (and empty) baby stroller. Robert soon finds himself pulled into the orbit of the local beauty, Ingelise, who needs his protection against her abusive husband - the most dangerous man in town.
Robert arrives in the south Jutland community as a good cop and a good man who's trying to sort out his own life while injecting a little bit of civilized order into a place that's too set in its weird ways. Instead, our hero finds himself being changed by the place and its inhabitants - bit by bit, but irrevocably.
Based on an Erling Jepsen novel (he also wrote The Art of Crying) and apparently on a true story before that, Terribly Happy is a surreal and spellbinding nightmare about a world so realistic and similar to our own that the slight differences are all the more horrifying and grotesque. The churning bogs that hide a bubbling mass of dark secrets create an atmosphere so oppressive that it's hard not to worry from the start that Robert has accidentally stepped outside of time and into a forgotten place that one cannot easily escape from.