Not so long ago in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), there was a scene that showed a boy jumping into a pool of human feces when trapped in a lavatory, in the hope that he would get an autograph from his favourite movie idol.
Headhunters has a similar scene, but the stakes are much higher, and its execution more vomit-inducing. It is a life-or-death situation for Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who has to completely submerge himself in human excrement with just an empty toilet roll sticking out of the brown filth for breathing purposes.
That is one of a few shuddering things Roger has to do to avoid being killed. He is hunted by Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-special forces member who ruthlessly tracks him down with miniscule transmitters. Roger has stolen an extremely valuable painting from Clas, but appears to have run out of luck.
The plot is twisty, its unpredictability a delight. What is essentially a highly suspenseful chase movie between the hunter and the hunted is also an unintentionally funny picture, with several set pieces bordering on the ludicrous.
Director Morten Tyldum (Fallen Angels, 2008) cranks up the tension in several sequences, often very masterfully like the lavatory scene. But generally, the handling of tone could have been more assured. It tries to replicate the gloomy Scandinavian landscape of the Swedish crime-thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), but falls short in achieving the kind of isolation and dread needed to immerse the viewer.
Still, it is a well-directed film with moments of surprises that will jolt you awake. How can a guy stay remarkably sane and alive despite the circumstances (some of which require a suspension of disbelief) that he has been through?
We don't get to see many Norwegian films here, even arthouse ones. Headhunters is an opportunity to do so, and it appeals more to the mainstream crowd. It is entertaining for most parts, and works like a Hollywood thriller but with subtitles.
Some of the dramatic material about romance, having children, and materialism seem to get lost in the narrative, especially when combined with grisly images, gritty violence, and the film's flawed mix of suspense and unintentional humour.
Still, it doesn't hurt your wallet to try this Norwegian film out, and leave the thinking of whether to catch The Dark Knight Rises (2012) for the fourth time till next week.