The Snow Girl: a Netflix Thriller to Scratch Your Scandi-Noir Itch (Even Though it’s Spanish)

If you just can’t get enough Scandi-noir Netflix’s new Spanish hit show The Snow Girl (La chica de nieve) may be perfect viewing.

Milena Smit in The Snow Girl
Photo: Netflix

The Snow Girl is based on a 2020 novel by Spanish writer Javier Castillo. It tells the story of the abduction of a five-year old girl, Amaya Martín, from a crowded celebration for Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night is 5th January and it is the 12th day of Christmas, Christmas Day itself being the first (in case you ever wondered what the song or the Shakespeare play were on about). The Cabalgata de Reyes (Parade of Kings) is a Spanish festival held that evening that is especially popular with children, as during the colourful parade people playing the parts of the three kings from the story of the birth of Jesus hand out sweets to the crowd.

In 2010, it all goes horribly wrong for Ana and Álvaro when Álvaro briefly lets go of their daughter Amaya’s hand and Amaya disappears. The series follows the attempts of a young investigative journalist called Miren, who is recovering from her own past trauma, to find the missing girl. It also follows the police investigation, and every now and again it checks in on the status of the missing girl’s parents as well. Miren, however, is the main character.

The series is not inspired by any specific true story, though its focus on a child abduction will obviously call to mind real life cases. For British viewers, it will immediately remind them of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from further along the same coast, in Portugal, at the same age as the victim in the book, three years old (in the TV series she has been aged up to five). As the series goes on, other real crime cases as well as other well known abduction novels will also be brought to mind, but we won’t say any more about those here.

The inspiration behind the novel is more personal, though. According to Ready Steady Cut, Castillo was out walking with his wife and young daughter and let go of his daughter’s hand for a moment. This story came from his own anxieties around something happening to her, and it explores every parent’s worst nightmare – losing sight of your child for a moment in a crowd and them disappearing, leaving you to wonder if you will ever see them again.

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The series takes in themes and content related to, as the Netflix content warning explains, suicide, sexual violence, bad language and the theme of abduction. It has several things in common with one of the most famous Scandi-noir stories, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, featuring a tough but simultaneously vulnerable female protagonist, an older male journalist, past trauma informing present actions, and the uncovering of some truly vile criminals. The title also evokes another Scandi-noir story about a crime against a child, Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Høeg, which was adapted into a film in 1997.

Of course, it won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the climate of Spain is not quite the same as that of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, or Finland. That’s probably why the original novel, although written in Spanish by a Spanish author, was set in New York City.

New York is, of course, not Scandinavia either, but the climate of its winters is much closer to the cold climate of Scandinavia than Spain’s is. In the novel, the (American) young girl is kidnapped from the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which takes place in November. There is quite often snow in New York at that time of year, and throughout the winter, so it presumably seemed like a good setting for a Scandi-noir inspired story.

For the television adaptation, though, the story has been shifted to Castillo’s home town of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain. Sitting right on the Costa del Sol, Málaga is better known to British holiday makers as a resort for the hordes of British people looking to escape the rain in the summer and enjoy a beach holiday on the Mediterranean coast. It does rain in Málaga in the winter, but the temperature rarely goes below about 8°C even in January and the summers are hot and dry.

There are plenty of mystery and suspense stories set in warmer climates, but that isn’t the route this show has taken. Rather, the series has stuck to the story’s Scandi-noir-style roots in its filming style as well as its themes. Many scenes are set in bare, concrete rooms or on dark streets at night. Scenes set in a rural home in the countryside have been filmed on the dullest, windiest days of the Spanish year so that the cast can wear reasonably warm-looking clothing, though nothing quite as heavy as the iconic woollen jumper worn by Sarah Lund in The Killing.

Some other techniques have been used to call to mind colder, wetter stories as well. In the opening sequence, for example, Amaya is wearing a yellow hooded raincoat and asks her father for a red balloon. This immediately makes the viewer think of the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, a story that also features crimes against children and that is set somewhat closer to the novel’s original setting, in Maine, in New England.

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Occasionally, the series could not help but show the glorious sunshine that gives the Costa del Sol its name in the summer. In these cases, the show uses a lot of wide shots of empty blue skies and almost too bright sun, aiming to give the idyllic weather so many British tourists crave a sinister streak.  Of course, the “snow” of the title has to take on a more metaphorical meaning thanks to the change of setting. But the themes, tone, grim subject matter and sometimes the literal darkness of the night-time-set scenes are all lovingly evocative of Scandi-noir, despite the much warmer climate.

The series is well acted by a cast not well known outside of Spain. It follows a suspenseful, twisting plot across three different timelines, but without ever becoming confusing. In places it is touching, while other scenes will have you on the edge of your seat as the tension ratchets up. It is primarily a suspense thriller rather than a mystery, but the answers to the series’ puzzles are intriguing and well explored. It is available either in the Spanish original with English subtitles, or dubbed into English if you prefer. The voice acting on the dubbed version is solid and the translations are mostly good too, with only the occasional phrase coming out a bit strangely in English.

So, if you’re looking for your next Scandi-noir fix, it might be worth your while looking south instead of north. You might be surprised how effective a dark noir story set on the Coast of the Sun can be!