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Finland’s ‘Icebreaker’ Introduces New Kind of Nordic Thriller: ‘When the Night Is at Its Longest, the Dead Are the Closest to the Living’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Be afraid, be very afraid: Finnish mystery thriller “Icebreaker” has just revealed exclusive first-look photos.

Set on a stranded icebreaker, it sees coast guard Sanna Tanner (Jessica Grabowsky) leading a rescue team. She comes across a group of survivors – and a frozen body – but over the course of six days, crew members start to disappear. And a vindictive spirit might have something to do with it.

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“Icebreakers’” backers have shared a set of first-look stills in exclusivity with Variety.

Created by Mia Ylönen, who exec produces with Aleksi Bardy following their collaboration on “Codename: Annika,” “Icebreaker” is produced by Helsinki-filmi, an independent subsidiary of Aurora Studios.

Commissioned by Elisa Viihde and distributed by About Premium Content (APC), the series boasts an impressive cast, with “Border” lead Eero Milonoff and “Compartment No. 6’s” Seidi Haarla joined by Mikko Leppilampi, Karim Rapatti, Roderick Kabanga or Johannes Holopainen.

“We wanted to build up slowly, like a classic whodunnit, but you get a sense there is something else going on. Something is lurking on this ship, but we don’t know whether it’s human or not,” said Ylönen, who wrote alongside Nuutti Sihvonen and Tuuli Kanervankallio.

“There are no ghosts and no zombies, but we wanted to bring in this mythological element and give it a new spice in terms of creating a thriller in the Nordics. We don’t want to go: ‘There is snow, there is darkness, there are people in trouble again.’ We don’t want to go the usual route. We want to add something extra.”

As well as referencing ancient pagan beliefs, especially those surrounding the winter solstice.

“When the night is at its longest, the dead are the closest to the living. I did a lot of background research into these mythologies and there is one character who believes in them. She recites pagan prayers,” explained Ylönen. But any comparisons to “True Detective: Night Country,” also combining the supernatural with the darkness of winter, are premature.

“I haven’t seen it! But I guess we are on the pulse, having these mythological elements.”

“We are avoiding jump scares and too much gore, we still wanted that sense of otherworldliness, however. There is something odd about this place. In the end, we go quite far. There is a supernatural entity and it’s unique for this series.”

So is its setting, mirroring the predicament of the main character, struggling with personal loss and refusing to move on.

“We always wanted it to be an icebreaker, not just any boat or cargo ship. Sanna pushes through everything to get where she wants, but in reality, she is stuck as well. She can’t let go of her father, who is missing. They are both in a similar situation.”

“This contained space and supernatural elements make it totally different from what people are doing in Finland nowadays,” stressed director Pete Riski.

“It’s a desolate place in the middle of nowhere: You just see the horizon. If you think about movies like ‘Jaws,’ they establish this idea that water equals danger. We do something similar. You don’t want to step on the ice, because it separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.

Despite all that, the living are still intent on keeping their secrets. Even though they might be lethal.

“Everything is based on the characters – that’s always a good starting point. You meet these people and it’s obvious they know more than they are admitting. When I read the script of the first episode, I really wanted to know how it ends,” said Riski. But there will be lighter moments as well, underlined Ylönen.

“It is a thriller, it’s suspenseful and some moments lean towards pure horror. You do get to laugh, however, already during these first episodes. Some characters try to ease the tension, others have romantic feelings towards each other. We are not in this dark world of death and fear all the time,” she said.

Neither is Sanna.

“She has chosen the career of a coast guard. She is from an island in Finland and it was a natural path for her to take. She doesn’t let others get too close, but she is still drawn to them. She has that yearning for being loved and Jessica really brings that out.”

“One of our references was Ripley from ‘Alien.’ We kept coming back to her, because she is tough, but she has a lot of heart. We wanted our protagonist to be like this too.”

There is a reason why Sanna, of all people, stumbles upon the icebreaker and the mysterious “Nightsider.” But references to “Alien” came in handy also when creating the show’s atmosphere.

“We have sequences that are action-driven, but in that film, the scariest moments were the ones when you don’t actually see the monster. It was something we kept in mind. It’s more about the shadows,” noted Riski.

“It’s a mid-budget series. The story and the setting are big, so we had to be smart about figuring out how to tell this kind of story in Finland. We shot a lot on location, on real ice, and then we used a virtual studio to work on trickier stunts,” added Ylönen. Promising that Sanna’s odyssey, on and off the ice, is far from over.

“This is planned as a story for several seasons. We solve this mystery, but we are leaving cliffhangers for other things to come. This title is also metaphorical, so her journey can continue under completely different circumstances.

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