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‘The Damned’ review: Dir. Thordur Palsson [TriBeCa 2024]

Paranoia and superstition collide in Thordur Palsson’s directorial feature debut, The Damned. Set in 19th Century Iceland, The Damned chronicles the bleak plight of a small fishing village in the wake of a ship wreck. 

At the head of the fishing group is Eva (Odessa Young), a recently widowed young woman who has inherited the business from her husband. If taking over the business wasn’t hard enough, Eva has the unfortunate luck of coming into power during the worst winter for years. With their food supplies dwindling the community does everything it can to persevere. Then after witnessing a shipwreck off of the coast, Eva makes a tough decision that leads to devastating consequences for all. As events unfold, Eva and her men struggle to reconcile between fact and fiction as they try to understand who, or what, is threatening them. 

The Damned is excellent at playing into the ambiguity of what is happening to the men around Eva. Whereas other films like to show their antagonist in as much detail as possible, Palsson keeps the threat hidden in the shadows. Men are attacked off screen, leaving the viewer and Eva only privy to the accounts of witnesses. This tactic helps build audience unease as one’s imagination always conjures up far worse scenarios than can be realised. Palsson’s approach is not too dissimilar to Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and comparisons between the two films are likely, but not necessarily warranted outside of period settings. Both films deal with superstition and accusations, but The Damned has a more cohesive group and Eva is respected by the men surrounding her. 

Odessa Young is brilliant as the newly anointed Eva. Despite her new standing amongst the workers, there is never the impression that she is incapable of doing the role. This is not a film that plays on the gender divide, and is richer for it. Given the hostility of the land upon which they live, Eva is hardened as equally as the men and her being seen as a peer is vital to making the story work. The male cast that surround her feature some familiar faces in the forms of Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann and Gangs of London’s Joe Cole. Of the two, Cole gets the meatier role. After seeing him play Sean Wallace for so long it is great to see Cole step out of his contemporary comfort zone and play a convincing fisherman. 

As strong as the performances are, The Damned is at its strongest when it leans into its technical elements. The cinematography is stunning, perfectly capturing the beauty and threat housed within an Icelandic landscape. The colour saturation is sublime, with clear contrasts between the hues of blues in the sky, water and ice. These vistas are astounding and help paint the picture of what life lived amongst such harshness would have been like. Similarly, the confines of Eva’s respite from the elements is lit dimly, candlelight permeating the screen, illuminating just enough to see what is intended with plenty of shadowplay to stir the sense of dread. Keeping the atmosphere deftly dangerous, there is minimal use of score, its sparing appearances used to maximum effect to create plenty of tension. The soundscape is kept wind heavy to enforce the group’s chilling surrounds with all elements – score, sound and visuals – coming together for a superb walk through the mist heavy snow during the final act. 

The story relies a little too much on the atmosphere created to propel itself, but there are several ghastly moments and encounters that serve to keep the viewer on course. The Damned is a slow and sombre affair that seeks to chill the viewer to their core, a feat that, for the most part, is achieved. Tension and hysteria is wielded well, but the final punch doesn’t quite hit as hard as it could. Overall though The Damned is an unsettling horror that will rattle nerves and chatter teeth.

The Damned

Kat Hughes

The Damned


Music is used sparingly to maximum effect in Thordur Palsson’s atmospheric and chilling tale of paranoia, superstition and hysteria.


The Damned was reviewed at TriBeCa 2024.

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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