It’s a tale of two Nicks. One is Nicholas Ramm (Reidar Sorensen), a master detective from Oslo, Norway. The other is young Niklas Hartmann (Gaute Skjegstad) from the backwater town of Hotten. Upon their first meeting, the elder Nick asks the younger if they are related. They will be soon enough.
Nicholas’ old friend from the police academy, Holger (Trond Hovik), is the Chief of Police for Hotten. When a young retarded girl is brutally raped and murdered, the only suspects are Niklas’ two older brothers. When one turns up dead, Holger calls in Nicholas as the vigilantes responsible might actually be on the police force.
What’s the point to all this grisliness? First-time director Karin Julsrud has a couple of points to make.
Nicholas is in a strange town to enforce the law, but what does that mean? What are laws but the agreed upon rules that govern society? The moment Nicholas arrives in town, the townspeople close ranks around the executioners. The evidence boils down to a drunken half-confession at a party (which may have been a joke) but nearly everyone, including a very strange priest, is certain of their guilt. Nicholas sees them as a bunch of violent hillbillies operating on gossip, but that doesn’t mean the brothers didn’t do it. If the whole town not only accepts but actually celebrates this act of outlaw “justice”, does that still make it unacceptable?
There are twin dangers to this sort of act and if you fail to acknowledge the beasts they can tear you apart. The first dragon is self-deception about your motive. Retribution is not a rational act, but humans are not, by nature, rational creatures. The only rational reason to kill another person is protection; either of yourself, other people, or property. Any other reason is emotional and/or to justify your actions to yourself. Dead people don’t care if you kill their murderers, they’re still dead.
The “eye for an eye” excuse is just an excuse, which leads me to the second problem. Not everyone has the exact same interpretation of when the scales are “balanced”. This tends to lead to opposing factions repeatedly attempting to balance the scales to their emotional satisfaction. If you take something away from a second party that has done you wrong, like their life, that person may have been important to a third party who now seeks justice for what was taken from them?
What Julsrud is revealing is how a once quiet community disintegrates into chaos and death. Both Nicholas and the townspeople approach the situation with a recognition of the other’s prejudices, but not their own. In their zeal to righteously punish the guilty, both lose sight of who actually suffers. In the end, it’s everybody.