This review contains minor spoilers for Katla.
Katla is a story about a community living in the shadow of a glacial volcano that has been erupting for more than a year. But it isn’t just about the threat of disaster – when people presumed missing or dead start showing up, covered in ash, things take a mysterious turn.
The series takes us on a supernatural journey that showcases the impacts of grief and trauma with folklore elements and a sprinkling of sci-fi. The Netflix original was written by Baltasar Kormákur and shot in the Icelandic coastal town of Vík, which oversees the real-life volcano Katla, among other locations.
The first episode introduces us to several overlapping storylines – a woman covered in ash emerges out of the blue, another woman grapples with the loss of her sister and a team of scientists works towards understanding the changing geology of the volcano.
The interesting thing about Katla is that no single character or plot line is the focus. Gríma (Guðrún Eyfjörð) and her father Þór (Ingvar Sigurdsson) are some of the first people we meet and the significance of their story, concerning Gríma’s missing sister Ása (Íris Tanja Flygenring), is hinted at early on.
But by the second episode, the strange woman Gunhild (Aliette Opheim) who emerged on the volcano leads us down yet another intriguing avenue, when we discover she is the younger version of an existing woman. This is only the beginning of a plot that raises questions about who we really are and what makes us, us.
As the trend of ash-covered people emerging from the volcano continues, the tension within Vík’s community increases. Each new character brings their own traumatic backstory, and the fantastic acting of every single member of the cast makes these emotionally driven stories even more compelling.
The people of Vík seem intensely affected by grief, but the way they deal with this ranges from denial to obsession – and sometimes has gruesome consequences. Gríma’s attempts to come to grips with the reappearance of Ása, who had been assumed dead, makes for one of the most harrowing tales. Eyfjörð delivers such an emotional performance that you really feel her pain, particularly in the finale.
The subtle foreshadowing in Katla will leave you feeling like you almost understand what is going on, but every episode adds a little more intrigue and even less clarity. Yet this mystery isn’t annoying – and if you do find yourself getting frustrated, wait for the final two episodes of the season, in which we and the characters finally learn some of the truth about Katla.
By the penultimate instalment, you are immersed so deeply in the tales of Vík’s community that you almost forget about the eruption itself. It is only when the scientists, led by Darri (Björn Thors), go to study the rocks first-hand that you remember Katla is at the heart of the story.
Though it could be described as slow-paced, new characters and story elements are added every episode, keeping you captivated. The picturesque landscape adds an immersive element to the series and eerie music gives an incredible sense of unease to the silence between scenes. No moment is wasted – each scene either develops the plot or provides tension or foreshadowing.
Katla is a thriller with such depth that some episodes, particularly the fast-paced season finale, can leave you feeling genuinely emotionally raw. It is a story about grief with unpredictably dark twists and turns, worthy of multiple watches.
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