TAKE ONE PART ‘In the Heat of the Night’, several parts pick-your-Coen Brothers, and another part of what I imagine ‘The Village’ to have been, strain it through the deadpan desolation of rural Scandinavia, and ‘Terribly Happy’ will emerge. It is a very old story—new man in a small town hopes to put a troubled past behind him, but comes to discover that his new neighbors have bigger secrets of their own to hide—but with a new twist. And an almost cheerful zeal for abuse that sustains a very macabrely comedic undertone through an otherwise grim tale. While this tongue-in-cheek remains secondary to the doleful setpieces and unadorned faces of its characters, ‘Terribly Happy’ is at its best, all driving towards a startling development about halfway through the film.
From there it spirals inwards, the pressure building on its small frame until it fractures and becomes frankly too pre-ordained for its own good. But until that point it is just raw enough, mordantly clever, and frank in the rough but affable way that only the Danes can be. This film was released just one year before the release of the first ‘Millennium’ film, ‘Man som hatar kvinnor’—or ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ as it became known when it stormed the United States. To compare that film’s bitter, perverse, and deeply serious treatment of small town politicking with ‘Terrible Happy’s macabre and ironic form of c’est la vie is to cross the Øresund and know the vastness within that narrow strait.