Pyromaniac follows a young man as he quietly wreaks havoc in his small Norwegian town. We spend the entire film with Ingemann, observing his life and his destructive habits. However, Ingemann's motivations are enigmatic. We are left to reach our own conclusions as to why Ingemann enjoys his incendiary hobby.
We are given an insight into the character's frustration. He is the fireman's son but receives very little attention in the community. His school friends no longer engage with him and most of the adults struggle to remember his name. Few opportunities to interact are presented in the sparsely populated setting. But when a fire breaks out the community is drawn together. A crowd quickly gathers and everyone participates in extinguishing the fire and rescuing as much of the victims property as possible. Crucially Ingremann himself transforms. He becomes competent and confident as undertakes his duties. Ingremann seems to show genuine compassion for the victims of his predilection.
Actor Per Frisch delivers a wonderfully magnetic performance as Ingremann, managing to embody the awkwardness of the character as well as the menace. As his fires grow in scope he becomes more bold and frightening to behold, all the while maintaining pathos.
The fires in the film are alternately terrifying and incidental. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg films ignition like an action movie utilising slow motion and rich sound design to make the audience feel the destructive power. Yet often the resulting fire is framed in the background of scenes, recalling Tarkovsky's set piece barn fire in The Sacrifice. There is of course one notable exception in which an elderly couple escape the house, a scene that is as tense as it is impressive.
The effect is that the fire loses its dramatic allure once it has been lit and any civilians have safely evacuated. The sense of urgency and danger gives way to one of melancholia. The fire becomes a passive devourer that roars in the distance and seems unaffected by the communities attempts to extinguish it.
One of the more striking engaging aspects of the film is Ingremann's relationship with his mother. Quiet scenes of domesticity establish the gentle fondness between the two characters which becomes heart-breaking as Ingremann's actions strike closer and closer to home. Some of the most emotional scenes of the film come from this relationship.
Not everyone will be engaged by Pyromaniac. The pace is slow, the characters are understated and the sense of peril is deliberately undercut with dark humour. However for those able to appreciate such things, the film is a frightening and arresting experience.