Into the Darkness review – a Danish family at war as the Nazis roll in

Leslie Felperin
·2-min read

Veteran film-maker Anders Refn has had top-billing as a director on a few films that aren’t terribly well known beyond his native Denmark. His reputation is mostly built on his long service as an editor with a very impressive filmography, having cut such films as Breaking the Waves and Antichrist for Lars Von Trier, as well as Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa. He also happens to be the father of a more famous film-maker, the flamboyantly talented Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon, Drive). But judging by Into the Darkness, a historical drama directed and co-written by the elder Refn, father and son couldn’t have more different sensibilities.

Not that this second world war-set family saga is at all bad; it’s just very conventional, and feels like it might have been originally conceived as a multi-part drama for television. At its best, the film’s soapy immersion in local history recalls the German epic TV show Heimat. At its worst, it’s a little dry and thumpingly didactic as the various members of the haut-bourgeois Skov family experience the consequences of their moral choices played out as war rages on, even in their relatively quiet corner of occupied Denmark.

Related: 'My father and I disagree on the purpose of cinema': Anders and Nicolas Winding Refn on film-making

Patriarch Karl (the great Jesper Christensen) runs a factory that is doing well enough to keep his alcoholic wife, Eva (Bodil Jørgensen), in pretty frocks and nice tableware while their numerous children have pretty much everything they want. But once the Nazis roll into town, the family is fractured along ideological lines, making for some very awkward Christmas Eves. Ne’er-do-well eldest Aksel (Mads Reuther) finds himself more sympathetic to anti-Nazi leftists: at first because of his friendship with the housekeeper’s son (Cyron Melville) and later because he fancies a pretty Bolshevik (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen). Meanwhile, another son (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) joins the Danish army and fights side by side with the Germans, and naive daughter Helene (Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard) is smitten with a dashing German U-boat officer, much to the disgust of her mother. Assorted Jewish friends are carted off and killed, leaving various members of the family questioning their choices.

If you have 152 minutes to sink into this morass of moral complexity and finely observed period detail, then it may well be worth it, although the ending is bizarrely, perplexingly abrupt. Perhaps there will be a follow-up feature.

• Into the Darkness is released on 5 March on digital platforms.