The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest falls back on the formula which has brought the series this far, that is, inflicting trauma and abuse on Lisbeth.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Director: Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Micke Spreitz, Peter Andersson, Jacob Ericksson, Mirja Turestedt, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl
Rated: R
Studio: Music Box Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-10-29 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-10-26 (General release)

Well, now she's done it. Or... that's what you'd think, based on the title of the third film in the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes). The movie begins by reminding you of what happened in the last minutes of the last film -- Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) was shot in the head, beaten senseless, and tossed into a muddy grave, after which she lurched to her feet just long enough to go after her dad Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) with an axe, in the rain -- all leading you to think that what comes next involves some serious kicking of metaphorical nests.

You'd be wrong. Instead, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest falls back on the formula which has brought the series this far, that is, inflicting trauma and abuse on Lisbeth. It certainly makes her mad -- she fumes with conviction, and she's had a lot of practice -- but this time, most of it occurs in flashback. This as Lisbeth recovers from brain surgery and awaits trial for murder (this contrived, very unconvincingly, at film's start). She also draws the interest of the very nice Dr. Jonasson (Aksel Morisse), who provides her with a handheld (illicit) so she can communicate with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). He suggests that she start writing her autobiography, so that she'll be prepared for court, and so she starts thumbing her keyboard at lightning speed, while the film cuts away to terrible images of the child Lisbeth strapped to a bed, prey for the very mean psychiatrist Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl).

If these images don't provide new narrative (the first two films have already indicated that Lisbeth's past represents a broad system of oppression), they are offered here as a vague and creepy kind of therapy, or at least a first step toward making her personal pain a public indictment. Powerful men have colluded to keep their secrets, specifically secrets concerning their brutal mistreatment of girls. Lisbeth is "the girl who" fights back, furious and resilient, and vengeful. In the past, she has meted out gruelingly physical reprimands, bloody and bone-breaking, satisfying but by definition fleeting.

At the same time, Lisbeth's flashbacks -- rendered with artful shadows, low angles, and soft-ish focus -- repeat the franchise's use of her abuse to appall and titillate. It's not Saw, but it's working the same concept: incessant violence creates a righteous victim, and then the violence delivered in return feels, well, righteous. The more brutal the better.

For all the bad men who put on false fronts -- here a network of doctors, lawyers, academics, and politicians -- the most brutal undoing will be systemic. And so Lisbeth agrees to work within the system that has so long seemed horrific to her, that called her a liar when she was a child, committed her to an institution, and made her young, pale body available to a range of monsters. Now she's going to dismantle the men's system of power, privilege and secrecy, yes, their hornets' nest.

To do this, Lisbeth must not only tap out that autobiography (which Mikael reads with an aptly pained expression on his face), but she must also appear in court, with a lawyer. How fortunate that Mikael has just the one, his sister Annika (Annika Hallin). She prepares the case with evidence uncovered by Mikael and his magazine team (Mikael, you'll recall, is deeply committed to exposing malfeasances, having been the victim of a trumped up legal case himself).

At the same time, Mikael's staff members, including his lover Erika (Lena Endre) are unnerved by threatening emails. Her fluttering and fretting -- however reasonable -- is here set against Annika's steadfast litigations and Lisbeth's steely survival. Even as Mikael purports to understand her fears and desire to retreat, he makes his own decisions about what to publish when, making Erika feel vulnerable and angry (more at him than the not completely unknown men he sees as her proper targets).

As Mikael convinces Lisbeth to work with his sister, so he also agrees to work with representatives of the very system he and Lisbeth have learned to distrust, when he's solicited by the good cop Monica (Mirja Turestedt). Their earnest, sometimes wary and always intense conversations are set alongside the movie's primary source of action, Lisbeth's lumbering half brother Niedermann (Micke Spreitz). Unable to feel pain and quick to maim and kill even the most casual acquaintance, Niedermann is again the Ur-Bad Man, hulking and heartless. He's so bad that even other bad guys want to punish him, and so his mission to kill his sister (held over from the last film) takes on a curiously antic aspect: committing varieties of mayhem on the road, he pursues her as he is also pursued.

This makes for a mightily episodic structure, as the film cuts from the road to the hospital to the office where Mikael meets with the police, and then again to a series of rooms where Teleborian and his equally old and unsightly colleagues (designated the Section by Mikael's team) meet to plot that most troubling girl's demise (all apparently selected from a casting director's Book of Villains). To underline her status as troubling, Lisbeth appears in court wearing a fierce Mohawk and Punk 101 gear. Apparently, this get-up signifies her truthfulness, set against allegations by the prosecution (and Teleborian) that she's delusional. Again.

Silent and seething, Lisbeth also reminds you that, as much as the "Girl Who" series has railed against her tormentors for producing this damaged, angry victim-cum-avenger, it has also repeatedly sensationalized their multiple and ongoing abuses of her. The strategy has been increasingly exploitative and tedious. Who knows? Maybe the series is producing more angry girls as they see it.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.