A lot of films that have a reputation for being weird truly aren’t all that weird. They may have a weird premise or a strange style, but there are enough safety nets and mile markers to ensure audiences won’t get lost completely.
Take Norway’s premise, for instance. In the hands of many directors, the story of a vampire who will die if he stops dancing would supply chuckles and eye rolls at first while still offering a film that mostly entertains. It probably wouldn’t be mainstream material, but you could get a good indie offering from something like that.
Norway is not like that, though. Its weirdness goes much further than its goofy premise. You can tell right off the bat as our dancing vampire, Zano, rides a train to Athens, Greece. All the train exteriors are obvious toy train sets. When he arrives, the city is just cardboard cutouts. Whether this comes to us via artistic affectation or budgetary constraints or both, it puts us in a strange mindset before the film even really starts.
And then there’s Zano himself, the ever-dancing vampire. You hear that he can’t stop dancing and expect something kitchy or quirky. That’s not really the case. Zano is weary. His moves are arrhythmic and small, making him a jittery, constantly uncomfortable character to watch. Even without the dancing, he’s already hard to look at. His sad, tired eyes and thick mustache make him look like a mixture of Al Pacino and Alfred Molina’s character from Boogie Nights but with hair like the albino torturer from The Princess Bride. He doesn’t make visual sense at all.
The film has a plot, and it’s even kind of a cool plot, but we don’t find this out for about half and hour, a span of time in which we just kind of follow Zano around this awful, mostly empty disco, looking to make some connection or at least get a party going. Eventually he finds a prostitute who might promise some excitement, but before he can get her attention he has to break her away from this Norwegian drug dealer guy. He does so by biting him, which seems simple enough. But even this gets weird - the Norwegian’s neck inexplicably sprays thick yellow blood everywhere. Later, another person’s blood spurts blue.
So it’s weird. To the core. But it’s also great and hilarious. And by the time it really starts going somewhere, you get the idea that something really cool is going on. Zano, sketchy as he seems, is actually on a hero’s journey. He doesn’t know it, and we don’t really get to know him, but when the film ends, you get the idea that you just saw something of substance regardless of the fact that you really had no idea what the fuck was going on half the time. If this were an overly serious film, that would be extremely obnoxious. Since it seems to have a lot of absurd humor on its side, Norway ends up being a little more special than you’d think. I have a feeling, however, that I might be alone in that estimation of its qualities. Like I said, it’s pretty weird.