Film Review: The Northman

Alas, those poor abs, I knew them, Skarsgård: a wolf

I tend to, or at least try to go into a movie as cold as an Icelandic liquid nitrogen fridge, in the depths of winter, on a Monday morning. Either having seen an email from a delightful PR informing The House of Flush about a forthcoming event or film, word of mouth, having attended a film festival, or euphoric wails echoing from international festivals, I try to restrict an information overload, that could sully those magical first moments of the room going dark, and the gateway screen beginning to glow.

In regards the latest cinematic experience from the auteur director Robert Eggers, The Northman (2022), Eggers name alone was enough to hit my ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO SEE THIS IN A CINEMA list, especially in times when seeing movies in a venue is unfortunately more selective, less spontaneous than it was a couple of years ago. And then I saw the trailer…

Eggers joyously creeped me out in a truly mesmeric/haunting/beautiful The Witch (2015), eerily distilled, but like a true nightmare, you never forgot the unease, the cinematography, the acting, the words, nor the destructive powers of religion. In contrast, The Lighthouse (2019) was an actual maelstrom, where I absolutely recognised, admired and respected the creation before me, but seeing it at 9am in the London Film Festival was absolutely not a good time to experience it, and it really was an experience, but so too is sea sickness. I’ll never criticise the movie though, I adore works that run screaming with conviction into the storm.

The (literal) screaming/howling continues with unfettered giddy bravado into the frigid lands of The Northman, though quite wonderfully, it feels like the genuine kin/offspring of his previous features.

There are an epic amount of elements to the feature, Norse mythology, the original story that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, revenge, trauma, beauty, violence, death, birth and lashings and lashings of what feels like actual Primal Scream therapy for all concerned. And it is GLORIOUS!

Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, who confusingly for a while I thought was actually called Hamlet) is the son of King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). War-Raven has returned from his endless meanderings, marauding, pillaging and general not so great behavioural traits of Viking life, blame the oceans, not the seafarer. It’s in the trailer, so it’s not a spoiler, but the catalyst for the story, that as much as Ethan Hawke is one of the best actors ever, his character doesn’t last long, but holy gods, does he own every scene he’s in.

King Aurvandil’s exit sword left via Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang) results in a young Amleth’s life being razed to the blood soaked ground, where he must flee to survive, to survive solely to fulfil revenge upon the slayer of his parents, and his world.

Years later, this meek boy has become a monolith of abdominal (non CGI) muscles, raging bulging neck veins and dark seething feral eyes, an actual walking volcano, on the cusp of burning everything to the ground around him, and until that cindering moment, is actually still burning/destroying everything around him. He really needs a better hobby than wanton murder.

The (wholly traumatised) boy becomes the (wholly traumatised) man, reawakened via witches, or internal madness, to get back on mission of hunting down the killer of his parents, his childhood, his innocence, his village and his kingdom.

To say more would be to lessen the adventure, and what an adventure, a riot of sumptuous shadow (actual and thematically), sound, landscapes, nature and blood, exemplary acting across board, regardless of how short an individuals screen time, in particular Willam Defoe (Heimir the Fool) and Björk (Seeress), possibly being the most Björk EVER! With SO many moments of What The Fjord!!!????, gorgeously outlandish, trippy connections to the realms of Norse gods, wondrous set pieces, in particular a vicious hurling match reminiscent of years gone by back home in Ireland, and deathly tableaus echoing some of the greatest moments of the incredible Hannibal TV series, it truly is a murderous, intense campaign built for the big screen.

Despite all the plentiful rage, potential salvation comes in the guise of Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), but the focus and folly of maniacal vengeance is a powerful muse, can feminine beauty quell the raging storm of masculinity…

Giving god thunderous bang for your buck, it’s astonishing, epic and a cinematic joy to behold, and there’s nothing like seeing results of unity, a body of work where every single person clearly gave it their all, to what is effectively the contemporary equivalent flickering of a camp fire we’re all gathered round, to hear a story unfold.

10/10

The Northman is in cinemas now.