We’re used to evocative, snow-bound Nordic Noirs on BBC Four on a Saturday night, but this new six-part Finnish series offers something slightly different.
We’ve discussed what makes a Nordic Noir until the cows come home on this site, and there has been a sense recently that too many channels have tried to employ this template to the point it has almost exhausted all avenues.
However, Man In Room 301 (Huone 301) breaks free from those shackles to deliver a deftly-plotted, fresh-feeling and tense noir. But be warned: it takes a while for it to get going, and we don’t actually see the aforementioned man in room 301 until the second half of the first episode.
What we do see is the Kurtti family. Back in 2007, the family – patriarch Risto and his second wife, Eava, his sons Seppo and Mikko and their respective spouses Olivia and Leena – journey to their summer house to celebrate midsummer.
Then in the present day, we see a very different Seppo and an older Risto discuss the anniversary’s of Seppo and Olivia’s son’s death.
Because of this discussion, we straight away know that something awful is going to happen in the summerhouse back in 2007, but what? And how? It’s an architypal way to build suspense and to drop a breadcrumb at the start of a story, and from that moment on we’re on tenterhooks.
But what Man In Room 301 does very well from there on in is to ditch the heavy exposition and let the story play out in both timelines without fanfare or extraneous detail. We’re left to follow along by ourselves and are treated as intelligent human beings. Because of the lack of exposition, it does take a while to click into the story, and you have to pay attention to who the characters are, what they’re doing and why. This gradual introduction is heightened because we follow the two timelines concurrently, and there’s a lot going on in each of them.
Like Elias Leppo.
Back in 2007 in Finland, the Kurttis’ neighbour is a delinquent, angry teen called Elias Leppo. He’s given to shoplifting, keying cars and generally skulking around the place quite menacingly. He also takes a keen interest in the Kurtti family, almost eying them with equal parts fascination, jealosy and disdain. (It should be noted that this sullen only child is the focus of constant, furious rages from his taciturn and angry father.)
In these opening two episodes, we don’t actually see how little Tommi was murdered, but we do know that Elias had something to do with it. On top of his menace, he also witnesses the Kurttis fray at the seams – Seppo is drunk most of the time, Olivia is revealed to have had an affair with Mikko (who is also revealed to be Tommi’s father), Leena is desperate for a distant Mikko’s love and attention even when she announces a pregnancy around the dinner table, and Risto is one of those fathers you can’t be around for too long.
After he breaks into the summerhouse while the family are outside eating and drinking (brazen!) Elias also overhears the conversation between Mikko and Olivia about Tommi, and witnesses a stolen kiss. He also steals a hunting knife.
Fast forward to the present day, and Risto takes the family to Greece for a holiday. Seppo – who now attends AA meetings – is separated from Olivia, and decides not to go. But they’re all haunted by Tommi’s death in one way, shape or form, so when a young man called Leo and his girlfriend Nina show up at the same hotel in Greece and starts taking an interest in Mikko and Leena’s young son Kalle, Risto begins to get suspicious.
Leo has the same coloured hair as Elias, and the same eyes. Risto has also received anonymous, threatening messages – via mail and text – that reference Tommi’s anniversary.
When we find out that Leo and Nina met on Tinder barely two weeks before their Greek holiday, you start to think… is this really Elias? And, if it is, what’s his game? Does he want revenge on the Kurttis because he was wronged? And if so, what did happen all those years ago?
Any series that messes around with timelines and flits back and forth really needs to get it right. In Man In Room 301’s case, it got ti absolutely right and used the device to tell two intriguing stories and build bucket-loads of tension.
A solid start.