Monday, November 3, 2008

These witches need more dance lessons

Häxdansen (The Witches' Dance) is a Swedish TV miniseries from 2008. The story takes place the small Swedish town of Bosjö, which apparently did quite the business in witch burning in the 17th century. The story goes that 11 "witches" were burned at the stake in one day, which must have been some sort of record or something. Anyway, fast forward 300 or so years, and some idiot has decided to build a football (soccer to you and me) field on the very spot where the witches were burned. Naturally, before they burned up, the witches cursed their tormentors, and all the future generations of their families. That is how the story starts out . . . suitably creepy and atmospheric for this time of year, don't you think???

In my innocence, I thought that a show about a cursed town that had been involved in witch burning might be -- oh, I don't know -- scary. Not this show. The main problem was that it really didn't know what it wanted to be -- comedy, drama, horror, suspense. It seemed to try weakly to be a bit of them all, but didn't really succeed in any of those areas.

The story follows the women who make up Bosjö's soccer team. The team is trying hard to move up in the rankings, but dealing with infighting, indifference from sponsors, and a hostile men's coach (who doesn't appreciate sharing the soccer field with the women's team). At first, it is a bit difficult to keep up with all the players, but we are soon to learn that we need only concern ourselves with a few of them:

Sara, who can't decide if she wants to be an artist or author, although at the time we meet her, she's doing the author thing;

Sussie, her sister, who has a respectable job in a bank, where on an almost daily basis someone comes in and has a shouting match with her over her penchant for sleeping with every male she sees;

Linda, who has been Sussie's best friend since childhood, although she is a frequent "bank scene maker";

Nadya, who is in a relationship with a stable, responsible man and has a child, yet she embarks on a relationship with:

Li, who can't decide if she likes women or men;

Ellen, who is the team's useless goal keeper. She sits at home every night playing online computer games. For some reason, she decides that Li is going to become her best friend.

There are also the coaches, Kristina and Henke, who try their best with the team that gets continually worse with every game it plays.

Sara, doing her author thing, discovers that every 11 years, something terrible happens in the town of Bosjö. Naturally, this is the year when something wicked is on the way (or so she suspects). She hooks up with an "author", played by the adorable and sadly misused Shanti Roney, who helps her investigate the story. After only a few appearances, he is outed as a fake, and disappears from the screen. What he actually added to the story is not clear, since Sara could have discovered the witches' curse thing on her own (she was on the Internet often enough).

The other weird plot twist is that Linda and Sussie, who seem to be intelligent enough women, both become involved with a real slime-ball named Patrik. He manages to convince both women that he is part of a large, secret organization that directs its members to perform "fun" tasks. Once a year, the members of the group get together and tell each other how they carried out their assignments. The things he has the women do are dangerous and sometimes illegal (putting dye in the city water works, stealing the jerseys of the men's football team, setting a newly unveiled sculpture on fire, etc.). Naturally, he films them performing the tasks and proceeds to blackmail them in order to force them to continue. It is unclear as to why the women would go along with such nonsense. Linda is not having a romantic relationship with him (although Sussie naturally is), so what is she supposed to be getting out of it?

I had hopes that Patrik would be revealed to be the devil, and there would be a big scene where he would be banished back to his fiery abode. No such luck, although he does get a sort of comeuppance in the only (extremely brief) scary few seconds in the entire show. Nothing horrible happened in the town, unless you want to count the 0-11 record of the women's soccer team. Of course, it was originally shown on TV, so I suppose the show's creators might not have wanted to get too graphic with the frights, but it didn't stop them from having some revealing love scenes!

I only saw this program advertised on a Swedish DVD website, so I have no idea how it was originally marketed. Maybe it was never presented as being scary. At any rate, I was disappointed that the program didn't make more use of the potential for frights. You had witches, curses, an evil human . . . I didn't even mention the fire at the insane asylum! There were many ways that the story could have played out, but the end result was not very impressive.

Final Verdict for Häxdansen: Two Gherkins, for occasional promising plot twists, but an overall disappointing series

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