I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed but can you be whelmed?
That's how I felt after Pyromaniac. For a film that was placed in the 'Thrill' section of the festival programme I expected bit more of a thrill to go along with the story.
Based on true events, Dag (Trond Nilssen), not long returned from military service is living back in his secluded hometown, Finsland. His father is the fire chief and he has helped to put out fires since he was 10 years old but he is encouraged to find another job. Dag has an obsession with setting fires and starts setting fires in wooded areas, then graduates to abandoned houses. The arson attacks attracts the eye of the local detective as well as the suspicion of Dag’s parents. But there is something about Dag that he can’t stop.
The film begins with a terrifying scenario, an elderly couple are home at night when an arsonist breaks and pours gasoline through a window. The house is soon consumed by flames and in a quiet and elegant scene, the couple casually leave their house behind and watch the destruction.
Flashback to 3 weeks earlier and we meet Dag. From the start of the film, you know exactly who the arsonist is and as the film continues, Dag’s fires become more drastic and at times, desperate but despite the change in fires and how aggressive they are, the feelings in the town rarely changes but merely adjusts. After two fires people are suspicious and the local detective guesses who is at fault pretty quickly but does nothing to investigate. Subtle words are exchanged but things don't stop. Dag himself goes through terrifying changes that aren’t addressed head on. His feelings are expressed in how he handles and sets his next fire. Outwardly, he seems cool and calm while on duty and comes across too passionate for others. While alone, he grows paler, sweating with pain, anger or loneliness, it’s not clear as we never delve deeper in why he keeps doing this. It is mentioned a few times that he is very intelligent and that he was always a clever person so maybe that’s it. Clever beyond anyone else in the town, he is bored and struggles to connect with others. There are shades of doubt and maybe even a split personality as Dag acts angry when he realises there were people inside of the houses he burned. He lives two lives almost. But there is something about the end scenes where this theory is thrown out of the window.
Despite the lack of reason or character development, the film is amazingly constructed. I couldn’t help but think, how did they get permission to burn all these buildings and trees. It was fascinating to watch the fires on screen and I joined Dag is being mesmerised by the flames. Fire is a spectacle and having the subject of the film a self-proclaimed pyromaniac is an interesting story. I just wish there was a reason behind it.