Based on the Viking legend that inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Robert Eggers latest film The Northman is a vengeance fuelled epic for the ages. A visually stunning tour-de-force, Eggers’ tale of betrayal and revenge burns with a fire as intense as the rage in its protagonist’s heart.
The story at the film’s core is a rather familiar one, but it is the combination of mysticism and primal violence that Eggers encases The Northman in which makes it a truly thrilling experience to behold. Set in AD 895, the film is your standard tale of betrayal and revenge. After King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) returns home wounded from his latest victorious conquest, he informs his wife Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) that it is time for their 10-year-old son Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) to begin the process that will prepare him for the throne.
Embarking with his father on a spiritual ritual, an animalistic and hallucinogenic affair led by his father’s jester and trusted advisor Heimir (Willem Dafoe), Amleth’s journey to manhood comes sooner than anticipated when he and his father are ambushed outside the temple. Making matters worst is the fact that the masked men are led by the King’s jealous half-brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Slaying the king and abducting his wife, Fjölnir is told by one of his men that Amleth was drowned in the ocean during the melee. In actuality, the young boy managed to escape the bloodbath and fled his homeland vowing revenge.
Taken in by a band of Vikings, a grown up Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) lives as a berserker plundering unsuspecting villages. A beast of a man fueled by violence, Amleth encounters a Seeress (Bjork), in his latest bout of plundering, who reminds him of the vow of vengeance he once made. Determined to kill Fjölnir, who now lives in exile in Iceland after being overthrown by Harald of Norway, and save his mother at all costs, Amleth disguises himself as one of the many slaves being sent to work for his uncle. It is while in servitude to his uncle, who does not recognize him, that Amleth meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), a Slavic Sorceress, who might not only aid his quest, but finally free him from the rage that has engulfed his heart.
As enjoyable as it is to observe Amleth systematically execute his plans, The Northman does not offer much in terms of character depth. Much like the Viking tales that inspired the film, the script by Eggers and co-writer Sjón is driven more by animalistic rage. This is a tale where the most primal actions are not only celebrated, but a necessary tool for survival. As Eggers playfully draws us into this violent world, while simultaneously making one feel uncomfortable for indulging in the carnage, he compensates for the lack of character development by upping the visual splendor.
The cinematography in the film is sensational. Whether capturing a character’s near-death experience through the image of a Valkyrie riding her horse into the air or portraying a village raid as if it was one continuous shot, Eggers’ creative stamp is on every inch of the film. Of course, the spectacle of it all can only carry the film so far. While there are a few interesting turns taken, the plot is rather thin and becomes a tad repetitive.
The Northman may not quite reach the heights of his previous films The Lighthouse and The Witch, this is still a film that is a worthy addition to any Blu-ray collection. Arriving on Blu-ray this week, The Northman comes filled with some great extras that capture just how much attention to detail Eggers put into the film. The featurette entitled “An Ageless Epic” touches on Eggers’ desire to ensure the historical accuracy on everything from the costumes to the set designs. Those looking for insight on how Eggers pulled off that wild raid scene will find the “Shooting the Raid” segment interesting.
An action-filled epic, what The Northman lacks in depth it makes up for in thrills.
Bonus Features: Deleted and Extended Scene, An Ageless Epic, The Faces of Vikings, Amleth’s Journey to Manhood, Shooting the Raid, Knatileikr Game, A Norse Landscape, Feature Commentary with co-writer/director Robert Eggers.