The Chestnut Man begins with a healthy dose of gore and death and continues to drag the viewer along for an intriguing ride. Victim after victim gets mysteriously killed in the most brutal ways. Two police officers in the Danish suburbs of Copenhagen take on the task to find the serial killer in the community.
The Chesnut Man begins with the focus on the return of the Minister of Social Affairs, Rosa Hartung (Iben Dorner), to her office. Her return has drawn the attention of the whole community as the grieving mother is set to return to work after the supposed kidnapping and murder of her daughter Kristine Hartung (Celine Mortensen). Her story gets spliced into the murder of several victims as a chestnut man figurine with Kristine’s fingerprint is found next to some of the victims. Two detectives Naia Thulin (Danica Curcic) and Mark Hess (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) are tasked with finding the killer. What follows is a string of revelations and the terrible unravelling of a case of child abuse.
What could be a better setting for a psychological thriller than the bleak Nordic scape of the Danish suburb!
The eerie crime fiction genre, which is popularly known as Scandi Noir or Nordic Noir, is big in Denmark. Several series recently have adapted the twisted ways of thrilling their audience. Loosely based on Søren Sveistrup’s gritty thriller novel of the same name, the series makes slight alterations to fit itself to the settings of the small screen. Sveistrup is not a novice to the crime thriller genre. His 2007 crime series The Killing, ran for three seasons and won several national as well as international awards.
An aspect that Netflix brings to the show is the availability of audios in several languages. Aside from the original Dutch, viewers can also choose to follow the pursuit of the killer in both English and Hindi.
Perpetuating the eeriness exuded by children’s toys, the series turns a DIY toy into a serial killer’s calling card. The politician’s young child had been making and selling the toys from the shells of chestnuts. These toys have been used as an integral clue in the whole series. It even led to a find that was one of the major twists in the tale.
Naia and Mark’s mission to piece the clues together begins not in the past. The first episode’s prologue holds important occurrences which lead up to clues behind the killer’s identity at present. This adds to misdirection and causes the arrest of an innocent man.
Multiple gripping aspects make the series worth a watch, starting with simple facts that ably conceal the real perpetrator. Unlike most of the drab ‘mysteries’, where the killer’s motives are evident two episodes in, The Chestnut Man hangs in mid-air with interesting cliffhangers. The most obvious suspects turn out to be innocent while the killer continues to be at the forefront, behaving like a concerned citizen, carrying out the murders in the shadows.
Apart from keeping the characters and audiences guessing, the show also gives us a look into the human psyche.
At the very beginning of the show, we can see Rose struggle to overcome the grief of losing a child. Characters give us glimpses of extremely real ways in which people cope with loss. From becoming acutely focused on work, to becoming a serial killer, The Chestnut Man shows the characteristics brought about by the loss of a loved one.
The series also gives a glimpse into the lasting scars that childhood abuse leaves behind. The deaths of the victims appear justified to the killer. Based on the abuse he faced as a child, the killer convinced himself that his victims were also abusing their children. As the show wraps up with the reveal, the audience cannot help but feel sorry for the killer.
While the camera work and background score go fabulously well with the mood of the show, there are some weak points.
As interesting as the misdirections are, the slow reveals can often get too slow. At points, the 45-minutes seem to drag out a bit too much. The fact that the season is six episodes long makes the show endurable.
Characters like that of Mark are not as well fleshed out as others. Mark comes into the show with a dark and mysterious background. The loss of his family is highlighted. However, his character remains too murky to be relatable. While audiences may choose to invest in some characters from the show, many do not foster interest to worry if they are the next victims.
The series ends on a low, especially with the killer’s reveal. So, those who did enjoy the show may not have a season 2 to look forward to. Unless copycat killers are what the show creators want to go for next.
Verdict: The Nordic noir genre has many gripping tales, but The Chestnut Man may not necessarily be one of them. Though it’s a sincere attempt, the series suffers due to its slow story building.